Sapling is a remote first company whose mission is to help People Ops leaders build better companies. To achieve this, our Leadership team recognize the importance of regularly investing in our people and our processes. In the past two years Sapling has grown from a 40 person company based on the west coast of North America to now over 90 people, and over 250 people globally when including our Parent company, Kallidus, in the UK. Although fully remote Sapling has clusters of its workforce in key cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco, and Austin, as well as about many talented individuals dotted in remote locations all across North America.
For more than two years we’ve all lived through unprecedented times. This has come with the perks of not commuting, and flexible working hours, but for some remote workers it can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Until now most of the Sapling team only know one another through screens and online scheduled meetings. Virtually at Sapling we’ve tried different apps and formats for building online connections but there really is no replacement for in-person interactions when it comes to team bonding. The need to simply reconnect and meet outside the home office was a common response our Leadership team received in a recent employee engagement survey. Actioning on this, plans for our in-person offsite came together in less than two weeks. Flights and accommodation were booked, meeting spaces reserved, and dining options researched with much anticipation.
In a time of so much uncertainty in the world, and in the tech sector, Sapling’s Leadership made the decision to bring together all our North American team members for Sapling’s first ever North American offsite. Held in Vancouver BC, it was the ideal location to host our entire US and Canadian team. We even had some UK guests from Kallidus join.
But first, what exactly is an offsite?
Offsites, also known as company retreats, are events where your team gathers in one location to focus on a particular project or goal. Offsites typically can range from 1 day to 1 week. They can be adventurous involving activities like hiking to a specific destination or they can be more formal involving meetings in a hotel conference room with catered meals and entertainment. Attendees think about the future direction of the company and have time to bond with their co-workers in real life. Offsites are a wonderful opportunity to break out of the day-to-day routine.
During Sapling’s offsite our time was spent hosting individual team meetings, group meetings and companywide presentations. There was time to get real work done and time to bond. In-person team events play an important role in how groups of coworkers' function and work together as a team. All attendees were able to enjoy one another's company in real life through ice breaker games, fun activities and plenty of delicious food.
Throughout the week of the offsite the importance of in-person interaction and human connection became abundantly clear. A major perk of this event was meeting in-person and holding scheduled brainstorming sessions and team meetings allowed ideas to flow. Not just in the dedicated sessions but also at spontaneous moments such as during meals when some very creative suggestions came about. Being physically together allowed for some impromptu interactions between people that typically don’t collaborate in their normal day-to-day. Embracing going off script and getting to know each other is key.
Another perk of this event was it made management suddenly both accessible and approachable. Seeing our leadership team in one room together with all our people really cemented the human connection. Employees felt reenergized and motivated after a live Q+A session with our leadership team covering many important topics such as the future roadmap of our products and our growing direction with our parent company Kallidus.
Of course, there are pros and cons to hosting offsites. In-person offsites such as this provide time and space to do deep collaborative work that can be hard to do in a remote setting. Connections are made and trust is built. These new face-to-face connections help relationships continue to blossom once back in the remote and online world. Holding an offsite could be the missing piece of the puzzle for building company culture. However, offsites like this are generally very expensive and require a huge effort to plan everything from guest accommodation to audio visual equipment. It can also be challenging for people with childcare and/or caregiver responsibilities to attend.
So, this begs the question, are offsites worth the planning headaches and large expenses?
Offsites are an incredibly valuable way to bring teams and leaders together to build a greater vision for a company’s goals and future growth. They are an investment in your overall culture. One week on from Sapling’s event, the positivity and motivation among our team is contagious. In our time together we covered strategy and vision but also allowed for personal growth and team bonding. When employees feel appreciated it contributes significantly to the company culture.
Many people will value a company's success by their revenue numbers and their customer logos. However real success is having a motivated and energized workforce with career-growing opportunities. This offsite provided the Sapling team with that much needed human connection, opportunities to bond, and also time to learn more about our company and its future direction.
Offsites bridge the gap between in-person and remote working worlds. So much communication happens non-verbally, being in-person allows for stronger trust to be built. With a clear agenda, achievable goals and buy in the relevant stakeholders, offsite are a great opportunity to do real collaborative work that will have a lasting impact on the future of the company.