Being #suddenlyremote can mean no more in-person happy hours—at least for a while. That doesn’t mean the party’s over.
Although we are a fully remote company, we are still very affected by the various stages of lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders that are in force across the globe. And so, in this post we’re looking backwards to a time that seems very different – even though it is only a few months back.
January was an exciting time for Alley. It was our ten-year anniversary (or “Alleyversary”) and to mark the occasion we decided to hold our first-ever international retreat. After almost a full year of planning by our internal Marketing & Operations team, CAMP MOps, we found ourselves on the sandy beaches of Cancun, Mexico at the CasaMagna Marriott resort.
We had three days and nights to make the most of our time together. For Alley, retreats are an opportunity to come together and reflect on the work we do and focus on how we can do it even better. We speak openly and honestly about ways we can iterate on our processes. With that in mind, we took a very intentional approach to our retreat programming.
Not everyone is accustomed to travel – for some, it was their first time leaving their home country, so we gave everyone a day to get settled in. Once we all made it through customs and checked into our (gorgeous) all-inclusive resort, we kept a pretty open schedule for the first evening. We wanted to give people a chance to explore the hotel and unwind a little bit before our official retreat got underway. It’s also important to plan for the unpredictability of travel, so we reserved all major events for our second and final days in Cancun. This ended up coming in handy when a few co-workers ran into significant delays from weather!
Once we were all together, one of the first things we had to do was set norms and values for our retreat. Coming together as a group can be very intimidating and/or overwhelming, (especially for a group of people who work from home most of the time!). We took a moment to discuss what our values are as a group and created a space of psychological safety, led by one of our fearless Agile Process Leaders, Sarah Rose Belok.
Based on the feedback we have received from some of our previous retreats, we know everyone at Alley values the opportunity to discuss our company with Alley’s partners. So we conducted a company-wide survey with sli.do and gave all team members an opportunity to ask any questions they wanted about Alley. Our CEO Austin gave an in-depth “town hall” talking about the state of Alley as a group and answering those questions.
In the past, we’ve noticed that getting work done during our retreat can be a bit of a struggle. Because of this, we incorporated teamwork time blocks this year. That is, we scheduled time for teams to spend together and swarm on anything they chose. Swarming is a very helpful scrum pattern which we employ regularly at Alley in our weekly sprints.
In addition to our scrum team time, we also wanted to make sure we had plenty of opportunities to create different groups of people who didn’t always work together. One method for this was a number of breakout sessions across the days of the retreat. Alley is full of talented and knowledgeable product owners, scrum masters, developers, and more, so who better to lead our retreat breakout sessions? We put out a call to action and asked some of the thought leaders at Alley to put together sessions: talks, demonstrations, workshops, whatever – that they could share with the rest of the team. We had several great sessions: including a workshop on asynchronous communication, a hands-on Scrum game, a Hack-a-thons, and a talk on mastering the art of client services. We plan to share more information around these discussions in the near future.
Our 10th anniversary retreat included a number of additional social events, including a gala dinner, an award ceremony, and of course, plenty of hangouts and volleyball games on the beach! You’ll be hearing more about our anniversary throughout this year, but this was an amazing way to kick off the celebration – all in one place. Stay tuned for more!