Working remote has its share of challenges, but it can be a rewarding and life altering change if done correctly. I could write pages about personal productivity tips of how to be successful when you are not working in an office., but today I want to write about bi-annual and quarterly in person sessions and their value.
The intention of the in-person session is to gather everyone in the company together in one physical place for team and relationship building and alignment on company strategy. Depending on company size, typically the business rents out a space and has everyone fly in for several days. Again, depending on the spend, sometimes these in person events are fun destinations for everyone but many times they are centered around the geographical headquarters of the company.
I can’t speak for everyone, but as a remote worker at a small business I can describe what my most recent bi-annual company gathering was like, and what to expect if you join a fully remote company.
About half my colleagues flew or drove into Charlotte, NC for the recent gathering. Our HR and marketing team put a ton of effort into the event which was named the “Winter Summit”. In addition to securing a meeting space, planning catering meals and arranging hotels, the team also served as our M.C. for much of the event.
Overall, very well done, and operationally pretty smooth for only the second such gathering since the pandemic.
A couple of takeaways for anyone planning a similar event for your company. First, check your acoustics and rent a PA if necessary. Our work-from-home ears aren’t as attuned to larger company gatherings with a lot of background noise. In our case the group nearly doubled in size since last summer, so it was tough to hear from the back of the room.
Another consideration is scheduling, or at least blocking out time between sessions. Buffers are good for presentations or ask-me-anything that run over. It’s also a great time for team members to chat and brainstorm. Working remote no one loves back-to-back meetings and the same is true for in person events.
Above all remain flexible. You aren’t hosting a TED talk or an industry conference. While it’s cool to be a bit showy, remember this is a gathering of your closest colleagues so it needs to remain somewhat intimate and personal.
The in-person gatherings are also a great opportunity to get to know your team and to reconnect. It’s a common saying that everyone looks better in person (than on a screen) and that’s mostly true, but it’s hard to find something to wear. Jokes about working int your bathrobe aside, dressing up even in business casual is a bit stressful.
Do I wear company branded material, and if so, how much? Don’t be the person decked out head to toe. Should I throw on a free vendor tee-shirt and does it look good with this pair of jeans? If you are in sales or c-suite, do you throw on a jacket? All valid questions of the remote tech worker.
It’s also important to remember that you’ll be in these clothes for most of the day, and possibly the night. After work activities are a common event, and while they are technically optional, you’ll want to take advantage of them for even a few hours. It’s great for relationship building, which is key to your career. If you are local, it might be tempting to clock out and head home, but many of your out-of-town colleagues are here on their own, and sitting in a hotel room alone is sad.
In my recent experience we had two after-work functions, one with the department and the other with the company. For the department we gathered at a local puzzle/break-out room style place. We enjoyed food and drink before pairing off into teams for a bit of competitive problem solving. It’s perfect for engineers but we were also joined by several members of our company leadership as well.
The second company wind function was a catered meal and open bar at what I’d describe as an adult arcade. It definitely gave off 80s vibes with giant arcade games, a bowling alley and other games. There was plenty of seating for folks to mingle and chat and quite a few competitive matches broke out.
Two things I really enjoyed about both these events. First food was supplied but it wasn’t super formal. Folks could grab some grub and chat with whomever. Beverages were available including non-alcoholic options. Second, both of these spaces supplied ample seating and mingling areas. It definitely gave an informal feel to the event and helped everyone relax after a rather intense day.
While the in-person gathering was great their area couple of challenges that you need to consider:
Watch your social battery.
Working remote requires you to manage your social interactions in a healthy way and to avoid “Zoom fatigue”. When you are home you can turn off the screen or decline the meeting. When you are in person with 50 people for 10 hours it’s not as easy to escape. If the meeting place provides breakout areas take advantage of them to recharge.
Choose your conversations
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of people at an event, and it is impossible to connect with everyone. Prioritize your own team and department but make time to talk to others you may occasionally interact with. Spending a little time with folks outside of your department will pay dividends on your future work calls.
Mind your social graces
Company gatherings might seem like a party, but remember you represent your employer, and you need to be safe and responsible. The same advice I would give for holiday parties and after work happy hours apply. If you are drinking, drink responsibly and have a plan to get home or back to your hotel. If conversations get a bit heated or awkward have a plan to walk away. Above all always apply professional respect for your colleagues.
That’s a Wrap
All good things come to an end, and so too your time together. If done well an in-person gathering can be an invigorating and recharging experience for a remote worker. Hopefully you can walk away from your time with a few more connections and a better understanding of your colleagues. You might make friends, but that isn’t the point. The goal is strong working relationships.
It’s especially important to keep this last point in mind. While you spend much of your time with your colleagues during the day, the nature of remote work means you need to prioritize your relationships in real life as well. Despite bi-annual or quarterly get-togethers you won’t have the same relationship with your colleagues as in the office. And that is OK, remote work is different and not for everyone.