Virtual Retreats, Viget-Style
A virtual company-wide retreat each winter has become an annual tradition at Viget. We've learned in recent years how to make virtual events more engaging, informative, and fun.
I've written before about The History of Viget's Quarterly Retreats, which we affectionately call TTTs because they fall (approximately) on the third Thursday of every third month. In the Before Times, these were always in-person. I'd travel to one of our (then) three offices in the winter and summer for a smaller, localized experience. In the spring and fall, we’d all travel to be together in real life.
During Covid, like many, we adapted to working together 100% virtually. This wasn’t too big of a leap for us – we’d supported remote collaboration since we opened our first remote office almost 15 years prior. So when the lockdown started, we were fortunate to have a lot of practice and our dedicated employee engagement manager, Aubrey, who led a variety of new ways for us to stay connected.
When it was time to host our 2020 spring TTT retreat, we went ahead with a 100% virtual format with some trepidation. Ultimately, Viget20 was an exceptional experience. It had a lot of what our normal retreats include: deep dives into two major recent projects from the teams that worked on them; rollout of new initiatives like our DEI initiative and code of ethics working group; metrics review; ignite talks; breakout sessions; and AMA-style Q&A. We even wove in our traditional talent show, but interspersed as pre-recorded performances between live talks to break up the day.
Our Fall 2020 retreat was once again virtual, once again magical, and we were on to something. We realized that even once travel became possible again, there are some positives to a fully remote, fully virtual retreat that we wanted to keep as part of our new cadence.
Now, every January we celebrate our winter TTT physically separate, but otherwise 100% connected, in our virtual retreat format. No travel – not even a commute for those who normally are back in our offices. No venue to rent or caterer to hire, though we do send thoughtfully branded care package-style boxes and funds for lunch at home. Just a comfortable home setup, a steady Zoom connection, and a vibrant event-specific Slack channel with more fun posts and emojis than one person can hope to keep up with.
Last week, we hosted our 2023 winter TTT and it lived up to expectations. 75 boxes were shipped out full of fun, branded ingredients for an engaging and inspiring day together. The wood-based theme that our design and brand team created – carving out quality time together – set the mood for everything from a creative carving experience, to a campfire-inspired s’more roasting, to us each planting a sequoia tree that could grow to 300 feet over the next 3,000 years.
Whereas our spring and fall retreats go deep on content, the formula for winter is to keep it lighter. We share financial and other business metrics to help everyone understand how the prior year went, including lessons learned and how we’ll adjust and evolve in the coming year. We run through insights and questions posed in our quarterly staff survey, as well as anything that comes up in real-time. The discussions are serious and guided by our TTT mantra: progress, not perfection.
The remainder of the time is focused on less-serious but as-important collaboration, connection, and creativity.
In this case, Lexie expertly ran a breakout session entitled “Embarking on New Growth” designed to help us get to know each other better by posing warm-up questions about gratitude, childhood, and laughter before we went deep sharing a team-based accomplishment. This was an exercise inspired by appreciative inquiry that sparked a ton of insightful, optimistic comments about how we can build on what's going well to achieve even better outcomes in the future.
Aubrey sparked unserious but very intense debates in her “hot takes” segment by posing questions like “is cereal soup?” and the new classic “are there more doors or wheels in the world?”
Finally, we literally carved together in an artist-led printmaking lesson, which worked surprisingly well over Zoom.
Both before and after the core meeting, we hosted casual, optional social time – a key warm-up and wind-down period that I think helps make these virtual experiences more effective. Ending the day roasting Viget-branded marshmallows was a nice touch.
Our goals of informing, inspiring, and engaging each other throughout the day were certainly achieved. I’m so proud of the team and culture we’ve built, and I love spending the full day working together to shape the future of Viget. As much as I love our virtual TTTs and believe they’re a valuable part of our TTT tradition, I can’t wait to be together in real life for Viget23 in May. There’s plenty of time for you to join us – we’re hiring.