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The offsite plan for async teams

Go from WFH to OOO to IRL with this offsite guide and template.

The offsite plan for async teams

Go from WFH to OOO to IRL with this offsite guide and template.

Written by
Keysa Yánez
Artwork by
Clara Rua

When you're a remote team, meeting in person changes everything. "Wow, you're so tall!" might as well be a slogan (we're working on the branding).  

But it's not just finally being able to pick up on body language that makes it valuable - it's the friendships we make and the work we ship. We value meeting IRL so much, we build it into our roadmap. 3 times a year, our global, async team gathers in one place for a week of work, fun, and offline connecting. Of course, we call these offsites OffSlites.

Since much of the team is based in Europe, and France specifically, we've been to places like Carpentras, Champagne, Aix-en-Provence, Tours, and even a chateau outside of Paris once. We choose relatively remote locations, because we want to carve some time to spend in the great outdoors, away from our screens. (Productivity tip: try a whiteboarding session in a corn field. Just trust me.)

Why OffSlites?

In short, there are three goals (and three benefits) of offsites.

CleanShot 2021-10-21 at 17.48.40.png

Async is great for deep work, but not great for building a social or cultural framework. This is both a feature and a bug of async work; offsites are a great solution. After meeting up, we feel refreshed, aligned, and excited for the future.

(By the way, traveling to Offslites is not mandatory, anyone can participate remotely if they choose.)

1. Team building

These are our fun activities - such as outdoor laser tag, hiking, dancing, or learning how to make gnocchi from scratch - plus everyday activities like preparing and eating meals, and working on short-term projects together, aka Builds.

Team bonding on the slopes

2. Alignment on strategy

At a growing startup, things change fast, and re-alignment is often necessary. Discussing roadmaps, new products, and new strategies, are all great to do live and in sync, where everyone can ask questions and get clarity. Being able to ask and understand the "why" of a large decision is great for buy-in.

Our fearless CTO Pierre takes the mic

3. Innovation

These are our Builds! They're so important to us, we've even written a whole post about them. Briefly, a build is a project that a small team (say 2-4 people) can ship in a week. Builds include product features, as well as Marketing, Sales, and HR projects too. Often, a build is something that we wouldn't do during a regular cycle.

What does that cost?

Our budget is usually around 500€/per person, excluding travel (which is a separate budget). This includes accommodation, meals, fun activities, and any extra supplies that we haven't planned for.

How does the team get there?

Moving 35 people around the globe to one singular location certainly has its challenges, but doing things as eco-friendly as possible is always a top priority. Teammates already in Europe are encouraged to travel by train. If we go to a more remote location, we take trains to the nearest city and then rent and share cars to their maximum capacity. People flying in generally try to arrive at the airport at similar times to share cars as well. Everyone books their own tickets using their Spendesk card.

We plan out logistics in a Smart Table so everyone's aligned.

What about COVID safety precautions?

We did our most recent offsite in September, so we had to organize around the Covid precautions required to travel both ways from many different countries. Luckily everything worked out fine, but there was some concern over a large outbreak stopping travel plans.

Taking note of international safety precautions for COVID.

As with most operations in a remote team, we plan as much as much as we can, and then we plan to be flexible.

What's the schedule?

We block out time based on our three goals. So that means offsites are spent in 3 parts:

  1. Talks 💬 - By anyone, on any topic (examples from the past were as diverse as "Lost deals", "Slite for good" or "Future of the editor").
  2. Builds 🌶️ - ~2 days-long, cross-squad work sessions, more information below.
  3. Social - team activities, dinners and drinks
The real agenda for OffSlite #12

Talks

Talks are an opportunity for people from any team, any field, and any role to share either what they're working on or their expertise in a certain subject. The strategy talk is suitable for everyone but often there may be a more technical talk that non-tech people are welcome to skip. Some talks are very "on-the-nose," such as "Product updates", and some are a little more general such as "Customer journey mapping" and "Delighting users". We record these on Zoom (so anyone remote can watch live) and then it's always ready for viewing in our knowledge base (Streaming - coming soon! Just kidding. Maybe. )

Builds

A Build is a project that a small team (say 2-4 people) can ship in a week. Builds aren't only product features, but small Marketing, Sales, or HR projects too.

As previously mentioned, we wrote a whole post about it!

Some examples of what has been done in the past:

  • Our marketing home page was mocked and challenged at multiple offslites
  • We prepared our Remote coaching program during Offslite #10
  • We experimented with Direct Channels (like in Slack) at Offslite #1. Shipped it and rolled it back.
  • Our Share to Slack feature was developed during the Amsterdam Offslite (#2)
  • A simple & clean layout → what the interface should look like in 2-6 months was the basis exploration for our new layout 2 years ago
  • Slash command was created at Tours Offslite

Activities

We always do a little something at Offslites, usually one big activity. We may give the team the option to choose a couple of activities too and everything is opt-out by default.

Tree-climbing and laser tag, all in a day's work.

At the last all-hands we went tree climbing, had a couple rounds of outdoor laser tag, and another group decided to explore the area instead.

Wine tasting was one delicious option for the offsite in Avignon.

Accommodations

We find places that can house our whole team, that look fun and inviting, and have enough space for work, recreation, eating, activities, etc.

When we book a place we look for a few main things:

  • Location: where is it? is it accessible by train, car, how far is it from a main airport? Does it have grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals relatively close by?
  • Internet: as great as the place may be, we do nothing without internet. One of the main reasons we gather is to build and there's no builds without internet.
  • Privacy: can we rent the whole property? We like being able to have the common areas just for ourselves without having to share with other guests.
  • Price: is it within our budget? if it isn't, how much over would we be and would it be worth it for what the place can provide?
  • Reviews/feedback/recommendations: it the place well-rated? Has anyone recommended it? Are the people who rate it highly companies or families?
  • Work areas/rooms/outdoor spaces: will we have enough rooms? Most people can share but we always need some 5 private rooms for those who rather sleep alone and have their privacy. We also need at least one big meeting area where we all fit for the talks. Ideally, we like having great outdoor areas like a big patio where we can eat, walk around and breathe in fresh air.

Most importantly, what about the food?

Since the all-hands of Sept 2020 when we were already 22-23 people attending, we realized cooking for so many people isn't as easy and can become a little stressful. So we've introduced catered meals at our Offslites since 2021.

Dietary restrictions, allergies, preferences may change for people literally from one day to the next. As bothersome as it may be to get asked every time, I think it's important to ask people before each Offslite and make sure their needs are covered. While main meals are catered, the team usually goes for supermarket runs where they get beverages, snacks, etc for the whole team and any special products for themselves. I'm guilty of enjoying these outings quite a bit.

And that's the gist of it!

We absolutely love our offsites, and we encourage remote/async teams likes ours to try them out!

We even made a Slite template for organizing offsites of your own.

Try out our offsite template
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Written by

Keysa Yánez is the People Operations Lead at Slite. When not planning amazing Offsites, she can be found exploring British Columbia, hanging with her pup, and making delicious vegan food.

Artwork by

Clara Rua is on the Design team at Slite. She juggles with all the Slite's brand codes to make our values and beliefs come to life in illustrations, projects, and visuals, amonst other things. You can find her cycling, surfing, pottery making, jump-roping, yoga-ing from the south of France to the Moroccan west coast.

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