Even though Rasa is a remote-first company, we still think in-person interactions are very important to build great relationships at work. That is why our bi-annual team offsites are part of Rasa’s culture.
I still remember the very first team offsite I attended when I joined Rasa - it also happened to be my very first day! I was grateful that I was able to get to know all my future colleagues from day one and learn more about the company outside of the usual office routine. As it happened back in the summer of 2019, we had an in-person team offsite with 3 days of various events. We were staying in a cosy hotel outside Berlin for the whole 3 days and spent time together not only attending sessions and discussions but also doing yoga, painting, making candles or simply chatting over lunch and dinner. Of course, we also had some time to relax - or read a book in my case.
Sadly, due to Covid-19 and restrictions on travelling, our in-person company offsites that were supposed to happen in July 2020 and January 2021 had to be cancelled...but not completely. Considering that it is a difficult and more stressful time for many of us, it was clear that it is even more important to connect, get to know your colleagues (especially important for our new team members!) and reflect upon the last months - even if this time it all happened over Zoom.
Of course, we still wanted to be mindful of our time spent in calls to avoid Zoom fatigue, so offsite events were limited to 3 hours each day with 3 days in total for the first week. The second week was dedicated for team/department planning and events that were shorter and spread between days.
What does Rasa’s virtual team offsite look like (from an attendee’s point of view)?
Once we received the agenda for January’s team offsite, I felt sure we had a great mix of events to keep us engaged. Nonetheless, the main goals for the event were set clearly and announced beforehand. Not to forget to mention that we also had snacks and dinner budget to have that popcorn ready.
On the very first day of the January team offsite, we had a kick-off session with our Co-founder & CEO Alex to look back at the last year and talk about the strategy for the upcoming year. After a break, we came back for a social call to get to know each other better and split into smaller groups. After chatting with colleagues, we gathered for a company-wide trivia hour that was the closing part of the first day.
The second day was dedicated to more social time. We started off with a guest speaker and then hopped into a team building event using Gather.town (a video-calling platform which allows you to build 2D maps and “walk” around to chat). We navigated through a pre-built Rasa space where we could connect to our colleagues and even play games together. We also had a task to get to know our colleagues better.
The last day of team offsite was a festive one (perfect fit for a Friday!). First we had a Rasa pitch competition that was part of the sales and marketing teams’ effort, where the entire company voted for the winner. After a break we came back for the Rasa awards ceremony where the Slack OSCARs (Outstanding Slack Contribution Awards @Rasa) winners were announced.
This might sound like a lot of Zoom time at first glance, however, we took breaks in between every session and committed to only 3 hours of content per day. In addition, we set ground rules that we don't expect anyone to work longer than usual, so depending on your time zone you could choose how you arrange your day (it allowed me to sleep in and start my working day later than I usually do). In addition, Rasa offered parents and caretakers of kids reimbursement for babysitter costs.
We combined presentations and fun social time to make the experience similar to our in-person team offsites, where we would also spend a significant amount of time just talking and getting to know each other better in between workshops.
I asked some folks from Rasa about their impressions of Rasa’s virtual offsite(s) to get a better understanding of how this kind of team event is perceived from the attendee’s point of view.
“I didn’t think it could be SO much fun to spend time on Zoom with my colleagues. I do these social calls once in a while but this was definitely better - I got to speak to so many at once and I didn’t have to schedule anything in their calendars! Also I was happy to use our snack budget, sit comfortably on my sofa and watch a pitch competition or try to win trivia (which I was terrible at!)”
“[I thought before] That it might not be cool to sit so long in-front of the screen. But time was flying!”
When asked about the biggest highlight of the virtual team offsite (or the team week that followed), many actually mentioned the fun team building activities as their favourite ones! They really encouraged people to connect with each other and learn something new about their colleagues.
“[my personal highlight was] watching clothed horses rolling on the ground during a virtual horse ranch visit.”
“My highlight was meeting and chatting with coworkers I don't interact with on a daily basis. This is important because I won't meet them in the office being a remote worker.”
“[my personal highlight was] When we were sharing our wishes in my team! That was really cool and I got to know my teammates better! <...> The quiz was also fun, I was mostly laughing with all the informal messages in the chat!”
“I thought there would be way more presentations. Instead, it was very interactive. Frequently breaking into smaller groups helped everyone contribute to the discussion.”
Of course, a funny moments or errors while everyone is online and using technology are to be expected, but everyone's effort, teamwork and cooperation is what matters!
“Well I could not put video or audio in the gather.town so I could not talk to anyone. I realised that it was my VPN but only at the last 30 mins. I did one conversation which involved a lot of people so there I could do the icebreaker exercise! :) Tiny contribution to the team!”
“For the first five minutes on gather.town I couldn't figure out where my avatar was. So I just unmuted myself and talked into the air until someone came into earshot and told me how to find myself”
“[being] Lost on gather town, learned many new things about each other, pitch competition was fun”
My main learning from these past (already two!) virtual offsites is that it’s important to have a goal in mind when attending sessions online, to know what we would like to achieve together. Also, after the first virtual offsite I realised that it’s not always easy to just sit and chat with your co-workers in front of the camera, so it was great to have some common tasks to do. In that way we skipped chit chat and went for a more meaningful conversation. What is more, the last virtual offsite was balanced well in terms of timing and variety of sessions.
There is definitely a lot of planning and logistics involved when organising an in-person team event, however, one should never underestimate the importance of planning and preparing a virtual team event and making sure everything goes smoothly (stay tuned for more on how to organise this kind of team event in more detail). Our Operations Manager summarised it all nicely:
“Success once could be a fluke, but twice reflects good planning and coordination.”