Getting Together When You Work Apart

by Marissa Epstein

This is the final article in my series on being a new Lullabot, where I focus on what it’s like when we get together in person. Catch up with Part 1 and Part 2 to learn more about what it’s like working apart.

Coming Together For Projects

As I mentioned in Part 2, my first week was spent on-site with my project team in Atlanta, working alongside designers and developers. It's funny, I’ve dreamed of working remotely on a distributed team, yet I cherish these “face time” days together most.

Working together

With scheduled virtual meetings, it’s easy to focus on the task at hand and forget to enjoy each others’ company. Meeting face-to-face fills in the blanks. I see expressions and mannerisms. And it’s just so fun! While sketching ideas for the new GRAMMY.com side-by-side at a huge conference table in our Atlanta hotel, we cracked jokes, shared music, and fed off each other's energy. Our sketch sessions were inspired.

Each night brought opportunities to bond as a team. I left with a new love of sour beers—Duchesse de Bourgogne in particular—and a backlog of design apps bookmarked or downloading on my iPhone.

The Team Retreat

Various Lullabots connect in person several times a year, between onsite meetings for client projects, conferences, and other organized events. Once a year, however, the whole company puts client work on hold for a week to be together. This year, we went to Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs. I remember a co-worker saying it "feels like Christmas, with the retreat only weeks away". I thought she was teasing. Now I know better.

Smoke Tree Ranch is not a rugged sort of ranch. National garden tours make pilgrimages here to check “immaculately landscaped desert oasis” off their list of things to see. Our cottages were cozy, the weather was perfect, and the grounds were gorgeous.

Smoke Tree Ranch

While staying at the ranch, we enjoyed a mixture of group discussions, activities, and one-on-ones. Directors gave passionate presentations, the team partook in thought-provoking round-table discussions, and we filled the dining hall with conversation at mealtimes. Because the majority of the team traveled West, impromptu morning hikes and yoga sessions began at dawn. There was time set aside to chill out each day after lunch that we could freely spend together or alone. Each afternoon at the golden hour, with the sun setting in pink and orange, we’d break into groups of about six people for circles, where we were encouraged to share our feelings and experiences without judgement. Some of the things my coworkers said were profound, vulnerable, or both, and I was thankful to learn so much about them.

Horse riding

Nights at Smoke Tree Ranch

Evenings were my favorite. We’d crack open beers and enjoy some new way to share each night. We started with a trivia night, focused on facts about team members that helped us get to know each other. There was even a question about me! It was sort of a trick question; Jeff asked which Lullabot is dating Will Farrell—that is, my developer boyfriend, not Will Ferrell, the actor. The next night was dedicated to Ignite talks, hilarious five-minute presentations comprised of twenty auto-advancing slides. Juan Pablo Novillo Requena, a Spaniard affectionately known as “Juampy”, collected weird English idioms he’d heard from co-workers for months—from whoopee to mongongous—then shared his findings. Greg Dunlap taught us about the insane Swedish tradition of burning the Gävle goat on Christmas Eve. Somehow, we all ended up chanting, “Burn the goat!” Subsequent evenings brought the talent show and storytelling night: brave ‘Bots (myself not included) sang, played instruments, or told stories, a mix of funny, suspenseful, and heart-warming.

Sunset

Heading into the retreat, I was daunted by the prospect of getting to know the more than 50 people I hadn’t met in person before. Not only did I meet everyone, I formed deeper connections than I expected. I was able to see firsthand the amazing dynamic of the team, which is balanced between professionalism and fun. The dining hall (and the hours to follow) felt like a party with friends every night—oh yeah, and the final night brought an actual Lullabot party poolside with Mariachi band. Coworkers let down their hair and goofed off. That night, I played Cards Against Humanity and watched as a cadre of developers tossed a very tall C-level exec into the pool.

Welcome Home

As we wrapped up the retreat, I felt like part of the Lullabot family, and am honored to say so. Both on and offline, I have experienced the culture of the company, and I love what it stands for. I am getting into the rhythm of the schedule and specifics of the work. For those remaining things I'm still figuring out, I know that I am not alone. I still have a long way to go, especially as I look around at all of those who have been at Lullabot for many years. There's always more history to learn, and processes to explore, but I'm comfortable with whatever my Lullabot experience will bring. I know I’ll have my team behind me. I am so proud of them, their accomplishments and their passions, and am proud to be a part of such a supportive, flexible team.

Together Apart

Overall, our time together was informative, thought-provoking, productive, and I can't think of the last time I had so much fun. Between heckling and joking, the team kept me laughing all day. We came to learn more about our company and make it better, but still found time to soak up the sun by the pool with breathtaking mountain views.

Town hall

On one hand, I wish there were more weeks like these, because I enjoyed the company of my coworkers so much. I’ll miss my team until I see them again. Nevertheless, this retreat was special because it’s not the norm. Since we don't interact in an office every day, we can stretch beyond our comfort zones to connect with one another and really make the most of our time. Most of us chose to work at a distributed company because we enjoy uninterrupted spaces of concentration to do great work. We’re recharged by solitude. We like our own space.

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