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There are plenty of benefits to meeting in person occasionally as a remote company, especially for fostering meaningful connections and building trust. But there are associated costs and potential downsides worth considering when thinking about how often people get together.
Connection. Getting together fosters human connection and helps build trust.
Collaboration. Activities like planning and brainstorming are generally easier and more productive when conducted in person.
Speed. Communication and collaboration happen much more quickly when an entire team is in the same place. Some companies send new employees out to work with their onboarding buddy or mentor to making onboarding as quick and effective as possible.
Fun. Getting together isn’t just about business. Many people like offices because they’re also social spaces. Team lunches, happy hours, karoake sessions, and much more are only really possible in person, and most remote workers only get these opportunities with coworkers when they have the chance to get together.
Risks and Pitfalls
Cost. Flying a few people to meet occasionally might be feasible for a small startup, but as companies grow, these costs can escalate quickly. A retreat for a company in the hundreds can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars*—Automattic spent $3.3M to host 800 employees in Orlando for their annual retreat.
Inconvenience. Traveling can be fun, but it can also be inconvenient. The burden of travel falls particularly hard on employees with specific physical or mental health needs, those with families or caretaking responsibilities, and for those who live far from the destination.
Safety. Some locations will be less safe for women, LGBTQ+ folks, and/or members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups to travel to or through. It is essential that companies take steps to keep all of their employees safe, by choosing locations that do not present risks of injury or harm to any employees.
Tips for In Person Meetings
Have a realistic budget. Retreats can get expensive, but a successful retreat doesn’t have to be extravagant.
Respect people’s time. Account for total travel time such that people aren’t gone for so long that caregiver and other responsibilities are strained.
Balance time between work-related and social activities. It’s easy to try to jam strategic planning sessions and lots of business into a retreat, but remember that the main goal is to get people together in person to form meaningful connections and build trust.
There’s a plethora of tools that we have at our disposal for different kinds of work. Tools like project management software, collaborative design tools, distributed source control for code, and others, become communication channels when we’re doing distributed work. Many of these types of tools support commenting, assigning people to tasks, and other means of communication that cross over with the other channels we’ve already covered—and many tools are aiming to handle a broader spectrum of uses, blurring these lines even further. We can’t cover them all here, but a few examples include Basecamp, Asana, Trello, and Jira for project management; Google Suite for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; Figma and Sketch for collaborative design; GitHub and GitLab for code source control; and many other options.
Domain Specific Tool Advantages
Purpose-built. Tools can be better at serving a specific purpose than general-purpose work suites are. For example, project management tools that support collaborative teamwork are generally preferable to trying to keep track of everything in a spreadsheet.
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