Bobbi, Head of People
29 Nov 2023
The Keel team just returned from our 6th retreat week together, a core ritual we undertake every 3 months. We arrived on Monday afternoon, left Friday morning, and in-between took in an afternoon of surfing, a half-day course on storytelling in the middle of a botanic garden, numerous delicious meals, and built meaningful relationships with our teammates.
Our purpose for retreats is singular: build connections. As a team of remote workers, we often crave the informality of a purposeless chat and the joy of solving practical problems together. From a failed BBQ attempt (the gas ran out halfway through) to a rolled ankle (after some vigorous tennis practice) and an airport dash (after one team member misheard the departure time as 3 hours later than planned!), we learn more about each other through our micro-failures whilst on retreat than in 3 months of succeeding as a remote team.
To help you understand how we got here, first let’s go back a bit to where this started.
When our founders created Keel, they knew they had an upfront decision to make: remote, office or hybrid. All options have benefits and drawbacks, and it was clear to them that the real question was one of talent - what’s the likelihood that talent we want on our team exists in a single geographical location? Once answered, it was a simple decision to go fully remote. We know that it’s much easier to do great work sitting side by side in a room together…
But that constraint would have meant we couldn’t hire Louisa, our wonderful Software Engineer who wanted a remote-first team to help her balance caring for her new puppy.
We couldn’t hire Dave, our South African-based team member who’s busy planning a wedding.
And our CEO, Benoit, would have been less able to prioritise the needs of his young family, who now enjoy seeing him commute to work (in his shed).
They couldn’t have hired me. After years of giving up my time and wellbeing for living away from home or commuting 4 hours a day, the pandemic brought home to me how much I needed to be brought home.
Not having an office means we don’t have the huge expense of office space.
A quick calculation of what a WeWork space in London would’ve cost gives us the budget for our quarterly retreats instead.
We invest this money in high-quality, unforgettable team experiences that generate stories to tell and genuine connections between team members. It’s a retreat from “work” into a space for connection and team development. We focus on activities we couldn’t do so well on a video call - like a storytelling workshop, or practising giving feedback in a safe environment. We also set aside informal time for things like tennis, swimming, board games and chatting. We collect feedback each time to help us get this balance right - like adding a flexible work slot for team members to use as they prefer, like working side-by-side on a sticky problem that they haven’t been able to crack remotely.
Everyone who hears about Keel’s retreats has two reactions:
How do you do it?
Over the coming weeks, we’re going to break down for you how we plan and put together our retreats in a style that others can borrow, copy, and tweak for their own teams.