Strengthening our team with quality in-person time: our June retreat

Strengthening our team with quality in-person time: our June retreat

In the beautiful landscapes of Portugal, the Whitesmith people gathered this week for another edition of our retreat – a tradition we hold dear and cherish no matter what. Held in a beautiful house near Douro Valley that became our temporary headquarters (and our B&B), this retreat, like the ones before it, is about more than just pastéis de nata - or, like this time, carrot cake - and admiring the views.

While showing you a glimpse of what our company retreats look like, we’re taking this opportunity to share some thoughts on why this in-person time matters and ways that we find to make the most of it.

Synergy and connection: the heart of our time together

So what is it exactly that drives people in a primarily remote-first company to pack up and dive into a shared work & living experience (in some cases taking hours on flights to get there)? The answer is simple yet profound: connection. Sure, Zoom calls and online tools keep us linked on the day-to-day and we work really well together, making Slack our occasional “social room”. But still, there is an unmatched value in those real-life interactions and in-person time.

For one, a regular 1:1 conversation with the manager, your peer in a project, or just about anyone becomes more meaningful when done while taking a walk or sitting in comfy chairs together while enjoying a cold drink or snacks. While we can still have good and honest talks online, it’s those true interactions in person that mean the most to us and make us understand one another better.

That time spent together is our own way of bridging distances and deepening bonds, creating a shared experience that resonates long after we’ve returned to our homes - and home offices.

The right mix of work and play

Our retreats are a fine balance between productivity and leisure. Mornings might find us brainstorming by the pool, laptops in tow, while afternoons could see us exploring local vineyards or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. These shared activities are not just fun – they’re a breeding ground for the kind of creative synergy that sees us returning home with fresh ideas and renewed vigour for our projects.

This year we even had a special 60min AI hackathon to foster exploration and further develop our skills in applying AI tools to improve internal processes. Through no code tools, each team was able to quickly build prototypes that addresses specific problems we wanted to tackle. The outcome was a shared feeling of curiosity, drive to learn more and a go getter attitude.

Working its magic on company culture

What do we gain from these gatherings? For starters, a real human bond and deeper sense of empathy that can only happen when we are together live, even if we do have good relationships while working remotely. There’s something about sharing a meal or a laugh that brings a team closer. This is particularly important for us, as our remote-first approach means team members sometimes come from different countries, or different cities in case of Portugal. Retreats give us a rare opportunity for everyone to be together, where both “HQ regulars” and “digital nomads” alike can experience a different way of work and interaction.

Moreover, these retreats are cornerstone events that help us maintain and evolve our company culture. In stepping away from our usual surroundings, we’re reminded of the shared values and vision that are the core of Whitesmith. It’s a time for reflection, for celebrating our achievements, and collectively steering the direction of our company’s future.

The key to success

So, what’s the secret to organising a successful retreat? Flexibility, openness, and a dash of adventure. We strive to ensure there’s time and mental space for both structured collaboration, moments of peaceful work, and spontaneous fun. We do our work, take the time for in-person conversations - individual and in teams, as well as with everyone gathered in one room. And then we cook, do the dishes, watch movies, swim laps in the pool and do whatever anyone likes to do. This duality is essential, as it fosters both professional cooperation and personal connections.

As we pack our bags and say our goodbyes, we’re not just leaving with memories of the beauty of Douro Valley. We’re recharged, realigned, and ready to tackle the challenges ahead together.

#people-culture #company-news

Natasza Jasinska

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