The hazards of holiday parties are notably humbug. Between the perils of serving alcohol and the social challenges of etiquette and extroversion, your employees have an awful lot to worry about. Hey, go ahead and have fun!
But how do you celebrate as a team, if most of your team is somewhere else? For Clark Valberg, CEO and co-founder of InVision, which makes a design collaboration app and platform, the situation is pronounced: All 175 employees, including Valberg himself, work remotely.
In fact, InVision--whose revenues Valberg says are in the "double digit" millions--does not even have a proper headquarters. That's intentional. Valberg wants his employees to work wherever they want, whenever they want. Whatever you choose, he'll cover the cost. "It's not that I want you to work at home or at coffee shop," he explains. "I want you to design the best location strategy for you. For the rhythm of your week, for variety, for controlling it."
Many employees have taken to the coworking space at WeWork buildings in Boston, New York, or San Francisco. Some do the work-at-home thing. One employee chose to work nomadically for a year, traveling with his wife, coast to coast and to all 50 states, often staying with friends or family. "During that year, without question, he did his best work," says Valberg.
So how does a company like InVision--whose clients include Adobe, Oracle, SAP, and Zappos--plan for year-end parties? Here are four keys to its approach.
1. Regional holiday parties. InVision's New York and San Francisco-based employees held their own holiday gatherings, with open invitations to anyone in the area.
2. Year-round get togethers. You might think a company like InVision could use a single, all-encompassing holiday blast, given that a year or more can go by without employees getting face time with their colleagues. But whenever there's an occasion for far-flung employees to travel and see each other, InVision encourages it.
For example, many InVision developers happen to live in Minnesota. Each year, they gather at one developer's home for a work-together day or two, with a party thrown in. When Adobe had an event at its San Francisco offices earlier this year, numerous non-San Francisco InVision employees attended. It became a de facto InVision get-together.
3. Flexible employee schedules and travel policies. InVision's culture is one of getting things done, rather than being present online during weekday business hours. With the exception of daily scrum meetings (more about those in a minute), employees are free to work as they please. Parents can be home at 3 p.m. Early risers can start typing at 3 a.m. The vacation policy is also unlimited.
All of which creates what Valberg calls a "don't ask" culture, in which he trusts his employees to use their judgment about how to get things done. The "don't ask" sensibility means employees don't hesitate to fly to San Francisco for a get-together. They're not worried that one of their managers will question the expense or the use of time.
4. Collaborative chemistry and continuity. Though InVision employees may not see each other in the flesh every day, they work within an infrastructure that keeps them in regular contact. Every day, every department has a 45-minute "scrum" style meeting. The meeting is always at the same time, one that departments work out for themselves.
Each employee briefly describes three things: what she's working on now, what she's working on next, and what her biggest constraint is. The daily scrums help teammates build collaborative chemistry and continuity. Which means, instead of being off on their own all day, remote employees have at least one real-time interaction with colleagues. Between scrums, they use communications software like Slack and Trello to assist each other and address whatever constraints arise.
"We're so deliberate and conscious about it," says Valberg. "We actually think our communication is better than that of many co-located companies, because we don't rely on the serendipity of the hallway or the water cooler."
Or the holiday party.