Work hard and see the world! Some tips to have a wonderful team retreat

Work hard and see the world! Some tips to have a wonderful team retreat

Dear Hue followers and globetrotters,
After all these years of traveling around with the team we thought about sharing our process for organizing one of these extremely important events, both for team spirit (especially for a distributed team as we are) and product development.

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In the past three years we have been to Thailand, Curaçao, Philippines, Israel, Hawaii, Holland, Spain (twice), Nicaragua, Belize and we are currently planning the next one that is gonna bring us to the wonderful country of Malaysia.

It ain’t easy

The first thing to understand is that these weeks off site are not a vacation. Actually, you will have to work more than when back home… but hopefully, if you are totally dedicated to the product you are working on and strongly believe in it, that extra effort will come natural 🙂

Commit Spikes

Github Commit Spikes

Destination

You need to pick something which is (pseudo) conveniently reachable from the different locations of the team. For us it means San Francisco and Amsterdam. Sometimes we do it in a way that we all meet beforehand for a few days at the office in San Francisco, and the leave from there.
Also, very important, you need to go somewhere where you have at least some sort of overlap with the working hours back at the office. Since you are gonna work 16 hours a day, that’s virtually anywhere 😀
There are some tools around to do the math for you, like WorldTimeBuddy for instance.

Budget

The company is rarely willing to cover your retreat expenses…. but still go for it! In our case, we pay for it. Talk about dedication. 🙂 What you can do though, since companies always have a budget for team lunches/dinners/social events, you can go for a nice dinner during the retreat and expense it. Or, if you go to a very cheap country – think SE Asia – it might be that all your lunches and dinner are covered by that same social budget!
How much do we usually spend? That’s largely dependent on the destination. To break it down for you:

  • Airfare: 500 to 1000 USD
  • Accommodation: depending on the number of team members and how much you want to splurge, anywhere between 30 to 150 USD/day
  • Food/drinks: from 10 to 40 USD/day
  • Additional transportation: (either a transfer, or another plane, or renting bikes/car) 0 to 200 USD

So, for a 7 days retreat, you are looking anywhere from 800 to 2500 USD. Thailand and Vietnam were the cheapest so far, and Israel the most expensive.

Planes

Finding a nicely priced ticket is a matter of luck most of the time. There’s a very cool tool from Google Flights though that let you explore a bit when the cheapest rates are: just click on the departing date, choose Price Graph and you will get an overview of what you can expect.

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Of course don’t let yourself be fooled by very cheap but terrible flights (36 hours travel time appealing to anybody?)
Another pretty cool tool to try to understand pricing is Flight Insight from Momondo

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Try to book flights that will arrive more or less at the same time at the destination. If a part of the team arrives a bit early, they could take care of other things in the meanwhile, like getting a car, checking in the place already, buying beer water, etc.
If you are traveling during the week, you might want to arrive on different days on purpose, to avoid black out times for support/reachability of the team.

Accommodation

That’s a tough one. Airbnb is the place where we usually get ours, followed in a couple of cases from VRBO. What to look for:

  • Good reviews (doh.)
  • Availability of wifi (ask before booking!)
  • Nice covered/breezy terrace outside: that’s gonna be your office! also ask if there are plugs outside and if the wifi is strong there
  • One bedroom each. you already share 2/3 of the day, better to have some privacy during the night. And it helps if somebody snores, or comes from a different timezone than yours.
  • Possibly one bathroom each (help in case of food poisoning :D)

Daily plan

Late to bed and early to rise, makes a team strong, successful and wise.
We start our day early in the morning, squeeze a few commits, then usually do a bit of sport (swimming, running) or meditation, quick shower and then go through the emails/escalations/questions that arrived during the night.
Then it’s breakfast time! We either cook at home eggs+veggies+fruit or get to a neighborhood place and eat with locals. Then it’s work work work till the tummy starts to growl, and it’s (mostly late) lunch. In the afternoon before sunset we take a break and either do sports (e.g. kitesurfing, snorkeling…) or go visit places (national park visit…). Don’t skip the break, it’s important! After the break, work work work till dinner, and then work till bed time. Cocktail time usually happens after the first break :). Indicatively the day is 6AM to midnight, with a couple of hours break in total. Tough, but extremely rewarding.

Tips

  • If you are more likely to get sick, bring some medicines: pharmacies are sometimes not readily available. Also, bring things for food poisoning… you know, in case of a bad shrimp. 🙂
  • Bring an unlocked phone or a mobile wifi hotspot with you, and buy a local prepaid SIM card with a 3G/4G plan active on it. It’s perfect for when the wifi is gone, or there’s an electrical blackout
  • If you laptop has a detachable battery, bring an extra one. If it’s a Mac, buy an external one!
  • Never plan a team retreat close or right after a release (if your company works in that way)
  • Keep track of who pays what with http://www.youbills.com/en/. Also, we usually get a “banker” that withdraws money at the beginning and pays for everything while staying there. It’s easier to track!

If you are part of a team and would like to go on a retreat, don’t hesitate to write us! We cannot pay for it, but we’ll gladly share more details about places, tips, etc.

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