Offsite for Our Fully Remote Team
Xata is a fully remote team with employees in Spain, Germany, Andorra, Belgium, and the US, with plans to add more countries soon. To compensate for our mostly Zoom-based work lives, we’re meeting in person a few times per year for an offsite in a nice location.
Last week, we had our first such offsite in Marbella, Spain, and here is how we did it and what we have learned from it.
Fair warning: the photos in this post might make you hungry.
First, a couple of months in advance, we chose the dates and the location. For the dates, we wanted it as soon as possible, but also when we expected the COVID-19 cases to go down, reducing the chances of travel restrictions. A couple of people on the team will go on parental leave soon and others had planned vacations, so we took those into account as well.
We decided to do the event Monday to Friday, including traveling, so that people can spend time with their friends or families on the weekends and don’t have to change plans.
For the location, we chose a place with nice weather that is well-connected to make traveling to/from it simple. We have a lot of colleagues in Spain, so the south of Spain was a good choice because many could arrive by train. The nearby Málaga airport made it convenient for the others.
We found a local travel agency to help us with booking the hotel, arranging the transfers, fun activities, and so on. This proved to be an extremely good choice and resulted in a surprisingly well-run event for a company of our size.
The game plan was:
- Monday: Everyone arrives.
- Tuesday: We review and discuss the way we work, our strategy, and our messaging.
- Wednesday: We review and discuss our roadmap and plans.
- Thursday: We visit the region and have fun together.
- Friday: We travel back.
Like in a conference where the most valuable track is the “hallway track”, more important than the agenda was what we discussed during breaks, during dinners, or simply on the bus. So we made sure the schedule had plenty of breathing air for us to know each other.
For many of us, this was the day that we met in person for the first time, despite working together for several months already. This made everyone very excited to meet each other. When we reached the hotel, the Xatafly — which is how we nicknamed our logo — was there to welcome us.
In the evening we had our first dinner with the whole team, and we learned quickly that the food in Spain is incredible and that we’re getting plenty of it.
Tuesday: Team, strategy, and messaging
We started by discussing our Series A announcement and what it means for our overall strategy. We then did a team retrospective which was a very open discussion and gave us a lot of food for thought. Speaking of food, the frequent “coffee breaks” included a lot more than coffee, more like a full buffet. It’s ok, we can diet the week after.
After lunch, we discussed our messaging, which included a very fun and productive brainstorming on our tagline. Towards the end of the day, we took on a couple of technical topics, because in the end, we’re engineers and that’s how we relax.
Dinner was again fabulous.
Wednesday: Planning and roadmap
A few brave people started the day early with a workout at the hotel gym. The rest of us found reasonable excuses to not do that.
In the morning we did a high-level planning session. We went through our roadmap towards our first GA release, made sure it was complete, and re-ordered items according to their relative priority. After lunch, we have discussed our pricing model, which was about as fun as it sounds.
With the weather becoming really nice, we decided to stay outside for the end of the meetings day. This made the discussions more casual and less organised, but not less valuable.
In the evening, for a change, we cooked our own food! Our amazing teacher Jose showed us how to make famous Spanish dishes: Gazpacho, Bacalao al Pil-Pil, and, of course, Paella. One Paella got too much rice, one too much water, and one was just about right. It didn’t really matter, we all had a great time. Thanks, Sangria.
Thursday: Fun day
We started the day by walking down to the port of Marbella for a Catamaran trip. The water was choppy which means that we didn’t see dolphins as we were hoping but the waves kept us entertained.
After another delicious lunch, we visited Cueva del Tesoro and the beautiful city of Mijas for a relaxed afternoon and evening.
Friday: travel back home
After dinner on Thursday evening, we hugged and said goodbye, because many of us had flights or trains early in the morning on Friday. Others could stay a bit more and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Learnings and conclusions
- There was a lot of laughter during the off-site. Coming after the long pandemic and the associated social distancing, it reminded us just how important laughing together is.
- As a remote-first company, we do a lot of work async and in writing. Meeting each other for a few days did wonders in associating a friendly voice and tone with future written comments.
- A hotel meeting room is not the best setting for casual conversations, so don’t spend too much time in it. Casual chats during the breaks brought us the most interesting ideas.
- Finding a good local travel agency makes organizing a lot easier.
- We’re getting back more energized, motivated, and with a clearer plan.
- Did we mention the food in Spain is amazing?
If you’ve got FOMO from the pictures above, why don’t you join us on the next offsite? We’re working on a Serverless Database with great UX and DX, meaning that we have lots of interesting challenges across the board: backend, frontend, platform, DevRel, UX, and more. We’re looking forward to chat with you!
Tudor Golubenco is CTO at Xata. Before that, he co-founded Packetbeat, which was acquired in 2015 by Elastic. During his career, he took various tech leadership positions at companies like Elastic, Oracle, and AcmePacket. He likes writing code, reading books, and being a dad.