There is a tradition at Proxyclick that every year the team takes a week and works together from a remote location. There are legends about what happens at these trips and the connections made in those days are strong enough to carry us through another year.
Proxyclick's 4th Annual Remote Working Trip in Chamonix, France, 2019
Except this year.
During a pandemic, the risk of getting on a plane, the insensitivity of even asking people to consider it made the trip impossible.
Not that we didn’t need it, having doubled in size, expanded our product features significantly to address the current events, and embraced over 25 different nationalities into our culture.
Half our people had never met except within a Zoom frame, and while everyone was friendly, we were getting tired of the Zoom frame itself. Connection was needed more than ever.
Drop the Beat is born
So in December, we tried something. Based on a great reference article about how to hold a remote offsite, we leveraged their curriculum design principles to create Drop the Beat, our own week-long virtual internal team conference.
What was unique to us was our larger size, and the fact we needed to reach teams from Oregon to Singapore simultaneously, while balancing online fatigue and the race to the end of the year.
Here's what we did.
We mixed the silly and serious. Day 1 was our CEO’s kick off speech and then teams were thrown together in a virtual "Chopped" cooking challenge to use the same ingredients and cook together real time.
Our own Anthony Janssens whipped up this cocoa salmon masterpiece during the Chopped challenge.
That night, there were photos of gastronomic creativity and smiles from Wisconsin to Brussels to Barcelona. Earlier that day, we did a similar challenge for the Singapore team's dinnertime and the Brussels team's lunch.
Instead of Powerpoint decks, we asked our Leaders to share the story of the year through letters that could be read offline, and we used our virtual time together to jump into Q&A, while munching along to the healthy snack boxes.
On Day 2, we included a journaling exercise and a workshop about how our culture looks today as we scale. To balance the time demands we held these sessions for Europe and APAC, and then repeated them for the US.
That second evening, we invited everyone and their families to jump on a giant Zoom, Proxyclick treated home delivery dinners, and just as things got awkward, we brought in a virtual magician that still has us guessing.
The virtual magic show by guest magician Eric Witzig began as Proxyclickers dined on complimentary takeout. We were stunned by his performance!
My sense as the organizer was that not everyone was enthusiastic from the start. There was some cajoling and convincing that this was a worthy use of time. There was confusion from our people about what was this thing was exactly.
But by Day 3, something shifted.
By Day 3, where we had team members volunteer to host pop up sessions (yoga, hip hop, astrology, cooking lessons, website building, and a festival of failure, to name a few), the drumbeat, the heartbeat of what we were trying to do started to work.
Our dev team member Robin Croon teamed up with his mother to show us all how to cook Pad Thai in a pop-up cooking lesson
We ran the gratitude exercise from Sitka’s offsite, asking everyone to take a collective hour to write a line of gratitude for everyone in the team. As 72 people wrote in silence, our chat box debated whether Enya or jazz was more conducive to grateful thinking.
As one team member said afterward,
"As I was going through the gratification exercise (by the way, at first I was like, 'Huh? It’s too early for this...I don’t know that many people anymore...'), I immediately at every slide, I thought, 'Oh! I remember when this person did THAT!', and it really brought a smile to my face.
By 6 AM, I was humming along, thinking about each one of you and how you’ve made a truly [difficult] year, another amazing one at Proxyclick."
Days 4 and 5
During the last few days, we hosted a virtual office. That's a literal office plan you could jump into to work and meet those you wouldn’t normally interact with while being remote.
A few days after, just before the holiday began in earnest, our finale was an email to each and every person in the team with at least 72 lines of gratitude as to why we were thankful they were with us. As one team member noted on this initiative,
"[It was] a caviar greeting card: never received such a beautiful one."
Did it work? Did we manage connection in a virtual space? Did all those heartbeats come together to groove out the end of the year with a Proxyclick rhythm?
I’ll let the team speak.
"It was great to be connected to each other in so many different ways. Perhaps not a remote working trip... but the magic was there."
"I’ve spoken to several friends about what went down here these past few days. None of them - no exceptions - have witnessed or even heard of anything similar from any other company. Surprise magicians, care packages, self-reflection, etc. This goes so far beyond any typical team - building exercise that it probably deserves its own new category."
"When Drop the Beat started, I had no idea what to expect. As we moved from Day 1, to Day 2, to Day 3, I realized just how special this event was, and how much time and energy went in on the People Team's side to make this truly magical. And after a tumultuous and isolating year, I could see that we, as a team, had so much love to give, gratitude to share, and the potential to come together - even during the hardest of times. The most heart-warming part, for me, was the finale - 72 lines of gratitude to me given by each of my colleagues."
"I'm overwhelmed by the charisma and spirit of this team. Wow. So grateful to be a part of this journey with you all!"
Moving into 2021 with a new rhythm
What did we learn?
We had to be very deliberate about what we were trying to do, to connect people and align focus, which is a great lesson for anything we do.
We relied on the power of rhythm and repetition to bring our message home, underscoring the importance of over-communication.
We gave time to connect and do what we knew the team needed, even if the team itself doubted that investment. That’s heart driven leadership.
"[Big shoutout to the People Team] for coming up with, planning and perfectly executing Proxyclick Drops the Beat. An amazing way to end the year!"
As we break into 2021, we learned how strong our culture is despite the suspended Friday lunches and paused in-person Remote Working Trip.
Culture and heart driven connection really can drive a rhythm for business and team performance long term.
Are you interested in joining our team in 2021? We're hiring! Visit proxyclick.com/jobs for more information.