How to run a great company off-site in 2021 (and beyond)
It’s hard enough planning a team dinner every few months.
Never mind getting 370 people from 20 countries to the Costa Brava, Spain for a team off-site…but that’s exactly what we did.
It rocked but it also taught us a lot about hosting major events after the upheaval of the past few years.
But first, what’s Team Camp?
Think of a Team Camp (or TC) as a way to kill the routine, and combine strategy with socialising.
It’s a chance for every Pleo’er to get together and get excited about what we stand for, where we’re going, and who we’re going there with.
Read more about why we think hosting company-wide TCs are crucial.
Seriously...how did we do it?
Clearly this has “logistical nightmare” written all over it – not to mention the extra layer of Covid restrictions that were necessary this year.
Despite this, the People team here at Pleo still created a memorable, inclusive and safe experience.
A pretty impressive feat – so it felt like a good time to catch up with the team to learn more about all the moving parts that go into planning TCs and how they see these company-wide events evolving as we continue to grow (pssst – we’re hiring).
“Planning the next TC is this huge side project to our day-to-day responsibilities that carries a big, important cultural aspect for Pleo. We really have to dedicate ourselves to finding that balance,” says Hannah Randera, People Ops Manager.
Pleo’s past TCs weren’t on such a grand scale because, well, we were a much smaller team back then. Taking ten people to go skiing in Saalbach, Austria versus 300+ to Spain – it’s a different ball game.
To kick-off a project like this, the People team focused on four key points as a group:
Finding the right fit
“For an event at this size, we really needed to make sure that the accommodation would suit all of our needs – and I don’t just mean comfy pillows and a delicious breakfast," says Evangelos Diamantis, Employee Experience Manager.
“We needed a conference room that would fit nearly 400 people, with enough screens so there are no bad seats and a solid sound system so no-one would have a poor experience during any of the sessions.”
There are a few things the team considers when it comes to location – are there direct flights from all Pleo offices? And is it easy and accessible for the majority of Pleo’ers?
“I feel the accommodation and location found us in a way – we saw the rooftop pool, which had been newly renovated. Plus, nice, new rooms. It was such a good offer for our team being so big now," says Hannah.
"And Spain is one of our markets. I think it’s important to get into our local markets.”
It’s also important to know your limits
Accommodation and location locked in – how do you get people there?
Everyone in the company was required to fill out a form indicating if they were planning to participate, and then all the necessary information was collected. Names, passport numbers, food preferences, emergency contacts – the important stuff.
Receiving all those forms, marking the responses, and recording allergies is enough to make anyone’s head spin.
So when it was time to start buying tickets, the team knew they needed some outside help.
“Flights. An absolute nightmare. Thank goodness we had an agency for that," says Evangelos.
Using an agency really streamlined booking flights and trains from each of Pleo’s offices, while remotes were able to book themselves (using their Pleo cards, of course).
Trust & transparency (and self-tests)
It’s a pandemic. People need to stay safe.
“We knew that we needed an on-the-ground Covid safety strategy – every day, everyone was required to self-test”, says Hannah.
Not all 370 people could be individually checked each morning, so it came down to a lot of transparency and trust – a few of Pleo’s core values.
“To hold each other accountable, we formed teams with their own Slack channel. These teams were formulated based on other social activities and workshops during TC. And what we asked of people was simple – just swab your nose in the morning and give the thumbs up indicating 'I’ve taken the test and have a valid result' with your group. That’s it.”
And who doesn’t love a little nose swab before your morning cup of coffee?
Create an inclusive agenda
Two months out, it’s time to set the agenda – key strategy sessions, team challenges and activities. It’s a good idea to share this ASAP. People like to know what they’ll be up to for three days.
“It’s important that everyone knows where Pleo is going, where Pleo wants to be, and what’s your part in the company and its ambition. It’s essential to have everyone informed but also empowered," says Milu Varela, Community Manager.
On the docket this year? Everything from a presentation on the future of our product to a fireside chat with Pleo’s latest investors to a team-building scavenger hunt. Some yoga and kayaking, too.
“There are a lot of different people and personalities in our company. It's important to calibrate for different people – know your team, and what they like," adds Evangelos.
Being inclusive means being remote-first too
“All our efforts were pushing for the Spain-based TC, but we started realising that not everyone was going to make it – people are having babies, COVID restrictions were making it too difficult... Or some people just weren’t ready to travel yet," says Hannah. "So we had to stop and think: How can we make them enjoy this time the same as everyone else?”
Because no one likes sitting on Zoom for hours on end feeling like they’re looking through a window.
The answer? Solo and DIY TCs.
A Solo TC is when a Pleo’er is by themselves. They were able to sign up for Master Classes, webinars and order take-away – essentially building their own activities for the day. And a DIY TC was created for Pleo’ers that lived in the same city (or close enough) and they built an agenda together.
With a separate budget allocated to Solo and DIY TCers, the People team was able to make everyone feel included and a part of the TC in Spain too.
And this was done by hiring a film crew to record the key sessions of the day, editing straight away and uploading the content for the remotes to watch all within a few hours.
There was even the opportunity to link up with the Head of Brand, COO and others for a Q&A session – aka exclusive content. The key thing here is not to try to create the same experience as the one in Spain, but to create a unique experience for all remote joiners.
“I think DIY and Solo TCs are something we need to have every year from now - regardless of the pandemic. There will always be people who can’t make it. Everyone has different personal situations. This is part of being inclusive, and Pleo is an inclusive company,” says Milu.
Time differences were accounted for too: People could also view the extra sessions whenever suited them best – we see you Pleo’ers in Canada and Argentina.
Celebrate the hard work
“If people can see what it takes from day one, up to the last day – working from morning until midnight...it’s hard but very gratifying seeing people happy and satisfied - that’s the best reward. I’m really proud of what we accomplished,” says Evangelos.
“A few days before, I felt a bit nervous – like what if they don’t like the team challenge and so on? But everyone was just so excited to see each other,” says Hannah, “It’s really nice to feel part of something big like this.”
As we continue to grow, TC might start to look a bit different or happen less frequently but what is important is that they’ll always be a crucial part of Pleo's DNA.
One last tip from the team – start encouraging and getting people excited about company-wide events from their very first day to continuously build the TC spirit into your company culture.
And finally, a big round of applause to our People team 👏
Looking to learn even more about the world of work and how it will continue to evolve?
Join our free one-day event Forward on December 9th, 2021 at 9:00 am CET to hear from 20+ speakers as they share their lessons learned, discuss their people-centric initiatives, and tell the honest truth about authentic leadership.
Forward, a digital summit powered by Pleo
Content, demand gen and SEO professional. 5 years in the CPH start-up scene. Get in touch!
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