Remote Working Trip Reloaded: Finding normal in a surreal world
The plan was beautiful and simple.
Step one: Select a beach with balmy weather, crystalline sands, and azure waters.
Step two: Fly out the entire Proxyclick team.
Step three: Engage Remote Work Trip...preferably from hammocks, while drinking virgin piña coladas.
Step four: Great productivity ensues.
There's a saying about the best-laid plans, though—and it isn’t “They always work out.” However, for those willing to be flexible and adapt to unforeseen circumstances, there’s always a silver lining.
A Proxyclick tradition
The Remote Working Trip (RWT) is the most eagerly anticipated Proxyclick event of the year, and 2021 marked its 5th edition.
Each year, we all come together in one location and work for a full week under one roof. After last year’s “virtual” RWT, an understandable but somewhat unsatisfying answer to the realities of the global pandemic, we were excited to finally hold this year’s event in person.
Our colleagues work across the globe, and over the past two years, our team has grown from 40 to more than 100 people. Many of them had only met each other over Zoom or email—and even for our “old guard,” it would be the first time they would see each other face-to-face in nearly two years.
Originally, we had envisioned a tropical destination for our RWT. But in mid-summer, as the pandemic's nth wave caused complications worldwide, it became clear that our island adventure wouldn't be possible.
It was time for a re-group—just 2 1/2 months ahead of our 11 October start date—and our options were limited.
Adapting on the fly
But then, someone had a bright idea: instead of discovering a new location, why not go back to our roots? In this case, Proxyclick's HQ in Belgium.
With approximately one-third of our team traveling to the RWT from abroad—from the US, UK, Costa Rica, Ireland, Romania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Spain (to name a few)—we realized that exploring Belgium could be its own adventure.
From our home base, we planned a new itinerary to give our team a true Belgian experience, not only in and around our offices in Brussels, but also in the beautifully-preserved medieval city of Bruges, and in the coastal resort town of Knokke.
Admittedly, Knokke was not the tropical beach we had envisioned back in the heady days of summer, but it certainly has its own charms.
“This is not a remote work trip”—but we’re on a trip, doing work, remotely
As a nod to the bizarre situation we found ourselves in due to the pandemic, and as an homage to the venerated Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte, we organized the RWT around the theme of surrealism, with the tagline, “This is not a Remote Working Trip.”
We were able to successfully plan and execute a five-day retreat centered around learning, team-building, and having fun. From Monday, 11 October through Friday, 15 October, our team participated in a slew of activities, all within the context of exploring Belgium and getting (re) acquainted with each other:
- Company-wide plenary sessions: We held these keystone sessions to discuss business updates that would impact all of our team, the “state of culture” at Proxyclick, as well as ask questions to the leadership team.
- Team meetings: It was important for us to maximize opportunities for people who are usually located thousands of miles apart to interact in person. We used these meetings for brainstorming and hands-on workshops.
- Team-building activity: Our entire retreat was designed for team-building, but we also included a dedicated event to bring people together and facilitate teamwork in an informal setting—a treasure hunt in Bruges!
- Pop-up sessions: These surprise sessions exposed our team to a wide variety of activities led by our talented peers, including Myers Briggs profiling, an emotional intelligence course, salsa dancing, and other off-beat learning opportunities.
- Social events: Never ones to be “all work and no play,” we made sure to include plenty of fun social events, including dinners, lunches, beach barbecues, board games, and even a Surrealist Chic party.
The overarching goal? For our people to have “a great experience full of fun—and a bit of work,” as Soufiane Mahrach, Quality Assurance Engineer, puts it.
As for whether we succeeded: “It was amazing to gather with colleagues from the other side of the world and share some quality time all together. An unforgettable experience!” Soufiane raves.
“The magic of being together”
As always, our RWT was instrumental in helping us to realign company strategies, set objectives as a team, boost motivation, and make plans to tackle the challenges ahead.
But the greatest benefit we reaped was an intangible one, one that couldn’t be conveyed in a PowerPoint presentation, or held up as an achievement for shareholders—simply, the chance to once again work face-to-face.
Prior to the pandemic, this might have been something we took for granted. But after 2020, it has become evident how valuable face-to-face interactions can be in fostering innovation, building trust and strong bonds, and developing a cohesive vision that is shared company-wide.
Our people share this view. “Yes, most of us can do our jobs online to fulfill the overall role, but nothing will replace personal and meaningful connections built through face-to-face encounters,” says Eva Marie Hass, Customer Success Manager EU.
Marie also explained that she is “happy to work in a company that understands this, and enables all employees to experience this, no matter their role or home base.”
Checking in with everyone
Moreover, being together for the RWT helped our people to become more solidly aware of and involved in our company vision. Adrian Cohn, our new VP of Marketing, extolls the helpfulness of our RWT in enabling him to “learn the ropes” in his new role. “The Remote Work Trip accelerated my onboarding by at least three months. What a way to start a new gig!” Adrian exclaims.
One of the oft-stated injunctions of 2020 and 2021 has been to “check on your people”—and being in person enabled us to do that. From the top-down, we were able to connect meaningfully and assess each other’s well-being.
This proved to be a wildly effective antidote to the anxiety and burnout that many people have felt during the last 20 months, re-energizing us all for the work we plan to do in the coming months and years.
Witnessing success—real, live, and in-person
Maintaining a company culture of collaboration, innovation, and conviviality has been a major challenge for many companies during the global pandemic. We have struggled with this, too.
While it is inarguably an asset to have a diverse, multi-national, and fully agile workforce that operates from remote spaces worldwide, the difficulties of coming together were exacerbated during the pandemic.
Even with technology that facilitates connection and communication, there is a certain synergy that only comes from being together—a sense of engagement, excitement, and motivation. That synergy has been a casualty of the pandemic, especially when all of us have been working in different corners of the world.
We have all been starved of truly meaningful interactions, even with people with whom we communicate on a regular basis.
The RWT gave us a chance to recapture this je-ne-c’est-quoi for a few days. It imbued us with a sense of well-being, as well as a feeling of growth—personal and professional—both of which persisted long after the closing sessions of the RWT.
As Krystall Fierens Lee, Chief of People Experience, puts it, “I don't sell a product. I can't measure success in KPIs. So it's moments like this where I can witness what we help create.”
In short, we were reminded of why we find this work fulfilling.
The future of work, and our role going forward
In a practical way, the experience of planning and executing the RWT served to reinforce the importance of Proxyclick’s role in providing part of the solution that will allow people and work to return to something approaching “normal.”
Especially as the urgency around reinforced health and safety regulations becomes all the more apparent when organizing an event for dozens of people flying in from around the globe.
Some of our features, such as touchless check-in, customizable health questionnaires, contact tracing, the new COVID-19 Compliance capability for vaccine checks, and more, play a key role in ensuring people are in good health.
The level of conscientiousness and planning required to safely design our own RWT emphasized the importance of our work, particularly in this time of transition. It filled us with a sense of renewed optimism about the role technology will play in opening up the world of work, and allowing beloved traditions such as the RWT to return.
Maybe next year we’ll finally get to live out our tropical beach dream. Until then, we’ll be practicing our salsa dancing!