Seeq’s All-Company Meetup – 5 Lessons Learned
As a virtual company with a fully distributed workforce, Seeq has been holding all-team meetups since our formation in 2013. Technically we’ve been virtual since the two years prior to that when the founders began to conceive of the company and were not geographically located near one another. Now at more than 6 years in business and as one of the more established wholly virtual companies, we’ve learned a lot about how best to collaborate together online and how to maximize the time we spend in person.
In the earliest days when the company was only 12 people and the concept of a completely distributed workforce was relatively new, we believed that it was of vital importance to gather the whole team to meet face-to-face every two months. At the time there were very few virtual companies to look to as role models, and we weren’t sure whether or not being fully remote might be somewhat of a disadvantage.
We were still developing our collaboration technology stack and experimenting with how best to work with one another online, and so we didn’t know if we could be effective teammates if we didn’t have frequent face time together. We’ve since come to know that we are highly effective as remote workers and that there are numerous advantages to being a virtual company, but that took time for us to fully understand.
But not having the benefit of experience that we now possess, in our first three years of operations we held 14 meetups in seven different locations, which made for a lot of high quality connections between colleagues, and also a near constant cadence of meeting and logistics planning for our People Ops person (me).
Those early meetups were a full week long – Monday through Friday – and largely centered around trying to work and problem-solve together. Often we would invite advisors, board members, and even potential customers to participate in our meetings and help inform the direction of the product and company development. We also infused some team bonding time into the mix, making excursions to ride bicycles in the Sonoran Desert, whitewater raft the White Salmon River, and tour historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Segways. We even managed to do all that without anyone sustaining serious injuries!
Rafting the White Salmon river in Washington state
As we grew and evolved as a team and a company we saw that we should iterate to improve our meetups just as we iterate to improve our product. We responded first by editing the attendees, realizing that this valuable face time should be primarily for team members to come together and strengthen bonds. By including other participants outside the company, employees would often feel pulled in conflicting directions and unable to be fully present for their teammates.
There are some exceptions to this rule, for example, when someone is in the process of interviewing with Seeq and this happens to fall over a meetup then the recruit may be invited to attend and meet the team in person. Or if we invite a customer to give a presentation about how they use Seeq so that we can all benefit from their input. Or when employees bring their family members and we have specific meeting tracks where they are welcome. But overall we do our best to keep the meat of the meetings contained just for colleagues.
Less Clock Time = More Quality Time
Next, we saw that meeting every 2 months for 5 days at a time was rather exhausting. As we refined our remote technology stack and we introduced more opportunities to connect with one another into our virtual environment, the need to meet as frequently in person diminished. The cadence of meetups scaled back to 1 annually for the whole company and 1-3 annually for departmental teams like Sales & Marketing, Analytics Engineering, and Software Development.
Additionally, we reduced the number of meeting days in the week from 5 to 3 although we recently iterated again and increased up to 4. We want to walk the line between asking employees to give up valuable personal time to travel, while also making the most of the logistics involved in bringing everyone together in person. We have found that by reducing the quantity of time spent in meetups we have increased the quality of the time that we spend together. People are palpably energized and enthusiastic to occupy space with one another when it doesn’t happen so often.
Focus on Alignment and Team Bonding
We are now experts at using technology to collaborate effectively and efficiently as a fully remote company. It didn’t take long for us to see that we could work just as well together online – better, even – as we could while sitting in a room together. Part of that realization is due to the high quality and self-directed nature of our team members, and part of that is thanks to our stack of collaboration tools.
Where we used to think we should use meetups to get work done, we now use that time for team bonding and connection, delivering strategic messages, and activities that support our values.
Location, Location, Location
We continue to experiment with destinations for our meetups and our thoughts around this have, like everything else, evolved throughout the course of the company. When they were frequent and fast-paced, it made sense to repeat locations to alleviate some of the logistical headaches involved in scouting and building contact relations. Since we were revisiting beautiful places like Seattle WA, Hood River OR, and Fountain Hills AZ, no one really complained about repeat visits.
In reducing the number of meetups, though, we’ve learned that we like to shake things up a bit and choose unique destinations and not necessarily continue to revisit old favorites. Ideally these locations hold cultural appeal so that our team bonding activities can include field trips to interesting sites.
May 2019, Washington D.C.
Our most recent meetup was in Washington, D.C., which afforded us the opportunity to explore the Capitol’s monuments and museums as well as sample world-class international cuisine. When our Software Development team met in Pigeon Forge, TN, they spent a day riding rides together in Dollywood.
The Software Development team goes to Dollywood
Our biggest takeaway in 6 years of meetups is that they only continue to improve and more closely fit our needs if we keep asking questions and learning from each one. At the end of every meetup we send a survey to participants so that they can deliver open and anonymous feedback about what worked and what could be improved in the future. We then do our best to include that feedback in the design of the next event so that at the end we can hear our favorite refrain: that was the best meetup yet!