We won’t pull punches, it’s kind of a point of pride that we don’t force the family narrative on our team. And in an ironic twist, the fact that we don’t seems to organically manifest a communal feel. We've expanded in the past 18 months, and by nature there are a lot of new faces. Our weekly link and learns, social hangs and general candor have made many of us fast friends, and remote work is definitely working, but we realized that 3D matters and people like trips, so we made plans for a three-day offsite to just kinda say “hello”.
The things that went down, bubbled up and sunk in during our time together proved that off-site gatherings are a “new normal necessity” for remote companies. We had a feeling, because we genuinely have a lot of fun together in the online world. So it’s unsurprising that getting together–even for the purposes of improving how our work lives function–felt like a vacation and not… well, work.
From Toronto, Baltimore, Houston, Detroit, New York and Philly, Long Beach, Ventura and Orange County, we converged on LA, meeting many new people for the first time in the lobby of our client Still Life’s space on Abbot Kinney Blvd. We expected some trepidation when we announced that our ice breaker was going to be a guided meditation–Still Life’s specialty is a brand of meditation called stillness–but the nervous energy was all positive. In what was, for many, a first-ever face-to-face interaction, we paired up with a fellow team member and sunk deep into a 45 minute silent dialogue with one another.
In those well-curated 45 minutes we Used All Five Senses, taking in everything from the primitive sounds of the crackling fire and insects chirping, to the feel of carefully guided deep breaths and hands pressed tightly to our chests, to the imagined tastes of a warm cup of tea and the smells of cedar smoke and sagebrush. But most of all, behind closed eyelids we took in the magical sight of our childhoods passing before us under a starlit sky. Pretty special.
And after the meditation we made sure to double down on taste with a personal visit from Tacos 1986 in the backyard.
From there, the takeaways from our day at Still Life formed a foundation for the remainder of our time together. The themes of play, kindness, reflection, empathy, truth and more that were uncovered as we borderline hallucinated under the watchful eyes and dulcet voice of Jim constantly resurfaced as we ate, drank, thought and strategized together over the next 48 hours.
We reminded ourselves to be the same in person as we have been from afar: a mindful and egoless group hungry for understanding, curious beyond repair, always ready to push one another to go the extra mile in pursuit of something that works for all of us. And most of all, we reminded ourselves to save space and time for play.
We’re all monitoring how remote team-building changes certain things, and the early returns have been exceedingly positive, but as the arrangement evolves we’re seeing creative ways that the reduced overhead can and should be reinvested in the greater good. Time spent together is at the top of that list.
It was so crucial to map fresher and more nuanced reflections of people we truly did know well already, despite having not shared a space with. We workshopped and re-wrote our core values to ensure that they were true and indelible and mirrored all of us. We reminisced on what we’d collaborated on, produced and learned in the past year, and imagined how those things could make the next year even better. We thought about how we choose our clients and discussed ways to ensure that every voice in our small unit was heard, across disciplines, borders and experience levels.
We laughed a lot. Sometimes we laughed because we were still getting comfortable. Sometimes we laughed at a decades-old Use All Five joke that we’d just added new context to. Sometimes we laughed because it felt great to do normal things together in the living world. Sometimes we laughed at boat names–yeah, we took a sunset cruise through the marina. Sometimes we laughed because Troy surprised us all and dressed up like a ‘70s yacht rock god for said cruise. Sometimes we laughed because it felt unreal to be in the same space. And sometimes we laughed because...margaritas.
There’s a lot to be said for remote work. It makes so much about the everyday more manageable. It’s an undeniable perk that uplifts home life, friend life and family life, but now that we’re truly good friends, we vow to do this every six months. By then the power of Google Meets will have diminished once again, and we’ll miss each other. Can’t wait to see what changes between now and then. Feels like things are trending upward.
General –15 (^Amazing) Things We’ve Learned from 15 (^Unforgettable) Clients in Our First 15 Years
General –Our First Self-Published Book—Sunset Market Plaza: Meditations on Strip Malls in Los Angeles
Interview –Interview: How Collaboration Between Remote Teams Can Yield Amazing (and Efficient) Work