A retreat that reflects the culture
On a cold Wednesday morning, September 28th, Hadrian employees from the Amsterdam, London, and Serbia teams boarded a plane, heading to a single destination: Valencia, Spain. The exciting atmosphere absolutely covered the whole team as this would be the first time for many team members to see their peers in person after months of working together on screen.
Given the fact that Hadrian is a hybrid team that spreads across multiple countries, organizing a fully-paid retreat to celebrate the one-year mark will undoubtedly increase employee engagement and productivity.
Amsterdam team arriving together at the airport
Mission accepted: Designing a retreat that reflects the culture
Culture is the backbone of every organization. According to Chief of Staff Sofia Verkhoturova, there are three pillars to Hadrian’s company culture: autonomy, boldness, and community. As the company is at its very early stage, the vital question is how to design a retreat that best reflects its culture, ensuring everyone is engaged and on the same page.
Being the person who took the first initiative to make this happen, our Product Manager Mats Mulder admits that this mission was much trickier than he thought.
His concern is: "Although the Hadrian team is very close, we are still colleagues, not friends. That makes it harder to ensure everyone feels comfortable during a three-day trip like this. Some people like sports, some enjoy cultural activities, and others prefer food and drinks. It's important to find the right balance with such a diverse group of people."
In fact, planning a retreat for a hybrid and geographically dispersed team is no piece of cake. It takes thoughtful consideration, clever planning and a detailed itinerary to accommodate every individual need and preference.
The committee team organized a focus group and other brainstorming sessions in which different stakeholders were asked about their opinions on different aspects of the retreat. It took around three months of planning and collaboration, but the results exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Some people chilling in hammocks at the villa
“Autonomy is freedom in how you want to structure your day and work or how your team wants to achieve certain goals,” says Verkhoturova. Autonomy should also be present in the way we spend our vacation days.
Therefore, balancing between the retreat agenda and freedom was greatly emphasized by the committee team when going into the design process. “We understand that being around a lot of people 24/7 for three days can be a lot, so there is a lot of flexibility for people to use their time. Playing chess quietly or going to your bedroom to recharge is totally possible,” Verkhoturova explains.
Boldness is not often valued in an organization where maintaining the status quo is the goal, but this is needed to truly make an impact.
"Many good things that happened on the company retreat were planned, but many of them were absolutely spontaneous and kind of culture reinforcing itself," remarks Verkhoturova. "The competitive beach game, conversations about the future vision of Hadrian, the speech that was delivered by Rogier, for example, that was really bold and really uniting."
The beach game
Mulder points out that many new joiners who haven't started working yet still came along. This shows that the people Hadrian recruited aren't the ones who shy away from uncomfortable experiences. "Yeah, why not" mentality is what the company is looking for.
"The fact that bold people were brought together led to many bold conversations, new ideas, and collaborations," Verkhoturova further elaborates.
A hybrid and geographically distributed team poses a challenge in establishing relationships and bonds among team members. Thus fostering a sense of community and connection within each team, across different departments and divides, is another important goal of the retreat.
Consequently, activities like yoga group workout, paella cooking workshop, beach games, cocktail night, pub quiz, etc. were planned according to those goals. Ensuring everyone got their Hadrian gadgets like hoodies, T-shirts, cards, and glasses created a strong presence and collective identity.
Cooking workshop in Valencia
"It was great to see everyone in the same place. I saw a lot of random conversations between people even more than I expected. Before the trip, I was a little hesitant, concerning whether people would mix or the hackers would be with the hackers, the London team with the London team? But that was no problem at all," Mulder smilingly recollects.
Mission completed: The human moment
It was around the afternoon on Saturday, October 1st. "We'll leave at 16:00 at the same place we were picked up," Mulder sent a message to the Slack channel.
After three eventful days together at the beautiful Finca Abogat villa and spending the last lunch in the middle of Valencia, the team got on the bus to the airport, marking the end of a wonderful retreat.
"The best part was to connect with people on the human level [...]. I've met and made friends with people I wouldn't have, which will obviously translate much better into work relationships and collaboration on projects. Because of the retreat, many friendships are developed in which there's no formal barrier," comments Verkhoturova.
A survey from Randstad that studies 35,000 workers of all ages across over 34 countries suggests that Gen Z and Millennials are increasingly more willing to prioritize their overall happiness over their career status than baby boomers.
Indeed, occupying most workplace populations nowadays, Gen Z and Millennials, as research shows, have higher expectations of their employers and how they do their jobs.
Since top talents are increasingly harder to find and attract, organizations must step up their game in promoting culture. A fully-paid work retreat, as Workable writes, can boost employee morale and pride. This is a statement from Hadrian that we're willing to invest in our current and future employees' well-being, contributing to a diverse and inclusive workplace.