The New World of Work and Our First Alariss Global Company Retreat
This weekend, we had our first Alariss Global company retreat, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was the first time so many of us ever met in real life, and we all felt immense gratitude for our health and for the opportunity to convene. It was a special feeling meeting the North America team in person for the first time. Most humbling to me as a manager and founder, is that these amazing people entrusted me with their careers having never met me in real life before!
As a remote-first company, we at Alariss Global have become accustomed to collaborating online. The majority of the team was recruited and onboarded through our own Alariss platform, and they went through the same product flow and onboarding as our clients and talent communities. We believe in the power of remote work, and, as we say, “the future of work is global.” It leads to more diverse teams, it affords people the ability to attend to family and personal needs more easily without having long commutes or having to uproot themselves unnecessarily, and it allows even the earliest-stage startup to access the best talent anywhere. We also believe that human connection can be fostered both online and offline.
We have grown substantially over the past year, and we are distributed across ten different cities in North America: San Francisco, Boston, Denver, New York, Hoboken, Montreal, San Antonio, Houston, Sacramento, and Seattle. We also have colleagues in Asia and Europe. All of us worked together virtually, building trust and bonds across time zones. We became pretty expert at asynchronous communication, using a combination of Slack and email, with the occasional WhatsApp and WeChat, as well as fully leaning into Zoom and virtual collaboration tools. We had virtual water coolers and game nights, and would send DoorDash cakes on birthdays, and got to know each other all online. The bonds we developed virtually made it all the more special to meet as a team in person.
There was of course the novelty; we were most surprised by teammates’ heights: our shortest team member is 4’11”, about 1.5 meters, and our tallest team member is 6’4”, about 1.93 meters. We also could no longer look at everyone’s faces at the same time in 3-D as we could in 2-D, so we had to remember to maintain eye contact with a few people at a time and to swivel our heads and bodies when addressing the group.
But most of all, it felt natural. We picked up on conversations, both professional and personal, as if we were old friends, because we were. There was no awkwardness, just warmth and camaraderie. As Kanika Gupta, operations lead, wrote, “Even though coming from absolutely different cultures and backgrounds (and heights :P) we all bonded well (global team after all!). The ability to work in teams, listening to others and being open about ideas, trying to understand different perspectives…just shows how collaborative a team we are! I felt that everyone was more expressive.”
My goals for the retreat were simple:
- Team bonding
- Discuss high-level strategy and mission as a group and reach consensus
Part of the reason I wanted to discuss strategy and mission in person is because these are nuanced topics and sometimes better when we can all collaborate and when everyone is participating. We used poster board and markers, so that it was more interactive, and so we could all finally break away from screens. As Ankit Mishra, head of growth marketing at Alariss, observed, “I found that when discussing or trying to align on topics like target markets or company values, it was much easier to come to a decision in person.”
But we also made sure to have fun. We explored Chinatown in San Francisco. We visited the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts. We walked to the beach. We had an Iron Chef competition and cooked Chinese and Nigerian food together. We went out to dinner together. We kicked around a soccer ball (or football, as some might call it). And we sat both outside and inside our Airbnb and chatted casually, sometimes with wine and cheese. I was also able to bring my 11-month-old son to parts of our team retreat; he had a great time, mostly from chomping on the fresh mangos our teammate Teresa brought, and it was a way for me to bring more of my authentic self to my team as well.
As CEO of Alariss, I think that it is important for our team to get to know each other. That is why of the three days allocated for the retreat, only one of those days was devoted to business meetings. Those business meetings were very valuable, but I felt like it was right to have plenty of time simply for team bonding and having fun, to do things that we would not otherwise get to do when we are virtual.
The company retreat allowed for colleagues who don’t normally interact very much to talk more with each other. One evening, we also invited alumni of our popular fellows program to join us.
Nhat Tran, data analyst at Alariss, said that the trip was great for strategy and reflection, but also “a bridge for our friendship and coworker relationships to strengthen… What was extremely impressive was the affection, hospitality, enthusiasm of everyone on the team and the secret talents of many people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend toward remote work, where people can work for a company from anywhere in the world. I have written about this in the past as being part of Globalization 3.0. At Alariss, we fully embrace the future of work, while thinking creatively about building and fostering community in ways that do not have to be technology-enabled.
Our company retreat was a great success, and I look forward to hosting more of them in the future.