Last month I boarded a plane and flew to Costa Rica where I proceeded to meet 38 of my co-workers in person, most of them for the very first time. This is after having already worked at Invisible for ten months. The week-long Invisible Forward 2022™ (retreat is the wrong direction) was experimental, magical, engaging, adventurous, healing and critical.
As a remote only company, we don’t often get the opportunity to meet in person. In fact, prior to this trip, I had only met three co-workers. While different departments have done small events for team-building and co-working, we have never done an event of this size. Taking into consideration the realities of an on-going global pandemic, with people travelling in from all over the world, this event was a nightmare to plan and coordinate. Huge kudos to our amazing Chief of Staff Aimee, the multi-talented Head of People Belinda and tireless Director of Executive Support Shaina for pulling off this incredible feat.
So what is it like to come together with people you work with daily, but have never met in real life?
It was freaking fabulous! Meeting everyone made them real. Each person is no longer a flat two dimensional image on your screen. They are actual people, with idiosyncratic gestures, varying volumes and an incredibly wide range of beautiful styles. Everyone brought their best authentic selves and it was wonderful to immerse myself in the Invisible bubble for a week.
It began with meeting a few co-workers at the Houston airport as we travelled together on our last leg to Costa Rica. We had flown in from 5 different cities and as we waited to board the delayed flight, there was time to connect and trade stories. Then when I got pulled over by Costa Rican customs for carrying 40 stainless steel tumblers in my luggage, it was a relief to have my fellow Product Manager bail me out by signing the customs import form with me (Thanks Chris!). Even the long bumpy bus ride from the airport to the resort was filled with laughter as we learned more about each other
We gathered at the hotel bar for dinner upon arrival and I was struck by how at ease everyone was. Many of us had never met each other before yet it did not seem to matter. People from different departments were seated together. Conversations were flowing as fast as the alcohol. I had not known what to expect and was a little surprised by how seamless it felt. There were high fives and hugs all around as I connected with people whom I have mostly been seeing on Zoom every Friday during our weekly hour long company wide Conversations sessions. It was particularly great to meet my manager Joe for the first time and also the rest of our team whom I work closely with.
The next morning, we lay down in the conference room, beginning our day with a meditation session led by Belinda. Over the next few days, we alternated between working sessions and fun activities. I’ve planned many events in my past life as an events manager and this was not your typical company event. While there were sessions throughout the week to share the high level strategy plans for 2023 and time for cross team collaborative meetings, there was a focus on giving people space to absorb the dragon energy generated just by having so many of us in the same place. Every day different members of the team presented an act from a play that was written by our courageous leader, Francis on his flight to Costa Rica. It was a weird and whimsical way to anchor the week, but it also set the direction on where we are going as a company and what we need to do to get there.
The main goal for remote companies hosting such on-site events is to build and leverage company culture while fostering team spirit. We achieved that and so much more during our week together. In the very short but fun-packed week, I managed to go ziplining down a mountain, take surfing lessons, experience white water river tubing, tour an animal sanctuary and soak in relaxing natural hot springs. Others went kayaking, paddle-boarding, cultural tours, Indiana Jones style river hiking, horse-riding and ATV racing. This was between drinking evenings in the Honeymoon Suite, a competitive game night, open water shenanigans (RIP paddle lost at sea), dancing on a catamaran, karaoke night, late night bubble baths in the hot tub, salsa dancing, spike ball tournaments, a jet ski collision (other than the jet ski no one was injured!), drinking tequila from a hat, hanging with Steve the Flamingo and other spontaneous activities. After you have done certain things together, you are pretty much bonded if not for life, then at least for the next decade.
Of course it wasn’t only all fun and games. In between these activities were many real conversations that detailed our plans and vision for the company and how we can work together to achieve our moonshot. Being a remote only company means you don’t get a lot of water cooler type or even morning coffee conversations with your teammates. Being on-site meant having the time to get to know each other a bit better and have conversations we wouldn’t normally have with each other.
I gained so much in this wonderful week that even a month after it, I’m still buzzing from the post event high. I learned some things about myself and so much about my co-workers. The connections made during the on-site are already bearing fruit. As a result of a poolside conversation, I’m now producing our company’s first podcast series to be launched in August.
Personally I was also glad to discover that I can still function as a social human being after having been isolated for so long during the pandemic. While I did need to take time to recharge my batteries during the week, I was able to switch on my social side for a good amount of time. It felt very good to be around people again and soak in that energy that has been missing from being at home for so many months.
I’m grateful for the experience and can’t wait for Invisible Forward 2023™ when we can once again gather and recharge our dragon energy!