We met each other in Bali!
If you’d told me in 2016 when I started at Convert I’d be running a team meet up in Bali, Indonesia, I would’ve said you were dreaming! It just goes to show you that you never know how things can turn out.
By mid-2018 we’d achieved enough growth in ARR that we knew it was time to reward the team for all their hard work. But where to go? What to do? The world is a big place and each location brings endless opportunities to create memorable experiences. Too much choice can lead to paralysis, so cue the internal survey! It became easier to pick a location once the team’s requirements were communicated:
- Super easy for visas (or no visa)
- Beautiful ocean
- Activities for kids
- Variety of adult activities
- Great food
So why Bali? Well, first… it’s stunningly beautiful, the water’s warm, and it checked all of our boxes and then some. We’re an international team made up of veteran to novice travelers, strong and weak passports and we needed to make the lead up as stress-free as possible. Bali gave everyone on the team something to get excited about.
Bali’s natural beauty and the proximity of both the ocean and mountains made everyone happy. People met up for dawn walks on the beach, while others enjoyed floating in the Indian Ocean, and others planned day trips and city exploring.
One of our favorite activities was our “accidental” welcome meal. Due to a tight missed connection and some very late night flight arrivals, we moved the meal forward a few days so everyone could attend rested. Because of this, we ended up at an outdoor pirate-themed family restaurant that was beach adjacent. There was even a small zip line for the kids, perfect for all of our sweet memories!
Food is such an integral part of culture and work culture. We are reminded by the smells and flavors of childhood, and share lunches with coworkers. Of course on a remote team, this isn’t possible. It’s also one thing I miss most working remotely. Take one look at our slack channels and food favors prominently on a regular basis. Whether it’s photos of lunch, or descriptions of failed recipes we knew that we all had a love of food in common.
An idea that I came up with to promote cross-cultural joy at our retreat was through treats… everyone on the team brought a snack or candy representative of our home country or region. Those who couldn’t attend the retreat had others’ mule them to Bali, so all countries were represented.
One of our Dutch-Mexicans even was able to procure stroopwafels (they disappeared quickly) in Cancun that made it to Bali! I brought ketchup chips from one of our technical support people in Ontario who couldn’t make it. I’m from Quebec, so I brought maple candies. Our nomad in Thailand was sneaky and brought mangosteen and durian candies… and waited for people to open them and wonder WHAT THAT SMELL WAS…😂😂
We were even treated to freshly homemade Indian sweets and Mexican tamarind candy, to name a few. We tasted, loved, liked, disliked and shared the stories behind why we picked our treat. The joy and love of the experience was palpable and set the foundation for 10 days of memories.
The real pièce de résistance of the welcome dinner was the unicorn piñata that had been transported all the way from Mexico by one of our marketing folks. A total surprise! We had a blast taking turns learning the “Canciones para romper la piñata”, chanting and giving it our best whack. The big trooper was “Legal” who held the rope from 20’.
And for the perfect ending to our meal, and a wonderful intro to our retreat; a stunning sunset at the beach in front of the restaurant enjoyed by all of us. Reveling in the wonder of how all our paths had crossed and brought us to this moment. Serendipity.
It should come as no surprise to you, now that you’ve read this far, the most fun team building activity was the open air cooking school. We travelled to the Pemulan Bali Farm Cooking School near Ubud for a day FULL of adventure. First, we were guided through a local market where we were taught about the basics of Balinese spices and cuisine. There was something new to experience there for everyone, no matter where they were from.
The pleasing sequel to that was the guided walk through the organic farm by one of our informative and passionate chef-instructors. We were all given a basket, and little did we know that we’d be collecting our own ingredients while on the tour. The kids ran along the paths; we chatted and shared stories as we strolled, taking in the colors and sounds of nature. We were shown all the different herbs, spices, fruit and veggies, as well as some stunning local birds! We each had our own basket and picked the items fresh that we would be using in our cooking.
We paired off into groups of 2 and proceeded to chop, grate, stir, sauté, sear and mince a cornucopia of the freshest and most colorful ingredients. The aromas of lemongrass, galangal, ginger and lime leaves were intoxicating.
The air was filled with laughter, (it turns out some members weren’t too handy in the kitchen!), but in the end, a sense of accomplishment and the aroma of success was had by all… turns out we all impressed ourselves with our skills! Plus we had a tasty 5 course meal to show for it!
Now you may be wondering, did you work? Well, we did in between (quelle surprise!) group dinners, birthdays, a night food market, and breakfasts. Did you know that you can co-work in the pool? Have 1:1 on the beach? The hotel grounds were huge so it was easy to find a quiet nook to hash out a programming solution or talk through a process improvement. We also did a few team building activities, co-working and collaborating in different sizes of groups and with different people. Amazingly we even made time for a full day knowledge session on Best Practices on Using GTD & Holacracy in Asana to Leverage Productivity.
No retreat is complete without SWAG. I mean, everyone wants to have a tangible memory to take with them. As a company that’s conscious about the environment (we are 15x carbon negative), it was important that the team have something they could use while on the trip and take home. Our welcome bags and the contents were purchased in Ubud so we spent our money locally. All items purchased were made in Bali or Indonesia: over the shoulder cloth bag, sarong, bamboo straw, wood cutlery, local nasi goreng spice mix, extra pedas (spicy) hot sauce.
We are fully aware that the footprint of a trip like this is huge. That’s why you’ll see us also completing our offsets for this trip and company operations, (we include servers too!) for 2019 in 2020 shortly.
One of our key criteria for our upcoming retreat in 2020 is to pick a location that is more central so that we have a shorter average distance to fly. We’ll continue to purchase as many of the items we can locally and buy from local vendors and not international chains when at all possible.
Taking our global remote team on an exotic retreat in Bali didn’t come without challenges. Yet, we made it possible and had a blast!
We came together to connect in real life and celebrate each other (and the company that brought us all together!). We shared stories about our lives as remote workers and bonded over shared values like our commitment to the environment, work-life balance, and Progress not Perfection. With a team distributed in 23 locations, many of our team members had never met in person.
We left the retreat feeling energized and amped up about the year ahead. The retreat helped open new lines of communication between us, collaborate much better, and empathize more with each other… based off of this bonding, we are chasing more ambitious goals in 2020!
You could be joining us on our next team retreat. Check out our current openings or make us a proposal for something you think we’re missing.