How To Bring Remote Teams Together Without A Big Offsite Budget

Remote team offsite on a budget

The Trello team is distributed across the world, some co-located and some remote. So how do we bring everyone together to bond over a shared social experience when 65% of our team is not in the same office? The answer might surprise you.

Trello wholeheartedly embraces remote work and we strive to sustain that sense of camaraderie through the year. One way to build that social connection is an offsite: Fly the entire team to a single place to hang out together and bond for a few days. We do that, and it’s a great time. It’s also a big, once-a-year financial investment that makes for long months of distributed work in between.

As our team grows in size and distance, it becomes more important than ever to keep team dynamics strong. This includes expanding our perspective of how our co-workers live and work, as well as making more frequent opportunities to have legitimately awesome social events—from the comfort of our dispersed backyards.

Here’s how we recently accomplished both, with very little budget (and very few rules).

Choose-Your-Own Company Adventure

Our answer to the remote event conundrum was to plan a summertime event (or wintertime event for our Southern Hemisphere folks) dubbed “Vitamin D Appreciation Day.” Why such a cheeky, exasperatingly long name? Because I liked it, and because the one thing we could say with confidence was that no matter the season or where we live, there would be a modicum of sunshine lighting up our day.

The process started as simply as this: Choose a date for the whole shebang that’s as inclusive as possible for the whole team to take off and go out and do something in their area.

For the co-located folks in our NYC head office, I planned a day trip to a beautiful beach venue with a pool deck for us to lounge in the sun, eat sumptuous food, and be merry.

The next step was to ensure that our remote team had an equally enviable experience. As remote work is defined by its flexibility, the solution here was choice. Each remote Trellist was able to do something in their area that best fit their eclectic preferences. A $100 stipend was provided to support each person’s chosen adventure.

Remote work is also defined by trust, so the budget came with broad parameters:

Do what you want that gives you a break (like childcare) or builds a great memory (or, in one person’s case, a stone wall!), provided that it is safe, legal, and does no harm to others.

We wanted it to feel like a shared event, so I sourced some volunteers from our Design Team to create a fun graphic for the event and then printed limited edition stickers and t-shirts that I mailed out to each participant in advance—it made it fun to know that your co-worker in another country was rocking the same tee for the same reason, just on a different hiking trail.

And that was it! When Vitamin D Appreciation Day arrived, everyone set off to their different (yet united) adventure.

Bringing Everyone Together

So everyone had the chance to do something fun, but how does that translate into bonding? We needed a way to learn what everyone got up to... (spoiler) it was a Trello board! In advance of the event, we created a Trello board where the team could share their pictures and stories of Vitamin D Appreciation Day.

Trello Remote Offsite

People got up to some interesting things:

  • Wine tasting in Anderson Valley with a side of picked wild blackberries
  • Explored the Science Behind Pixar exhibit
  • Took a ferry to a nearby island to play golf with a friend and finished the day with a baseball game
  • Took the family to play at the lake
  • Had a family cookout
  • Went out for a fancy meal in the city they were visiting on vacation
  • Visited national parks
  • Got to be a tourist in their new town
  • Kayaking, Hiking, Mountain biking
  • Rodeo
  • Built a dry stone wall, using their stipend to buy a 20lb sledgehammer and some rebar
A few groups of remote Trellists who live in the same city even met up to do fun things together!

This board isn’t going anywhere either. It will stay in our team board ecosystem as historical reference so new team members can check it out as part of their employee onboarding, or if participants want to reference a picture or two later on.

How To Host A Rad Remote Event

The key to making a remote event successful (and not just a day where everyone disappears and does their own thing) is to be mindful of making it as inclusive and connected as possible without restricting to the point that it’s a have-to instead of a want-to.

Here are a few key things to consider when setting up your own appreciation day:  

When is your company or industry’s seasonal quiet time?

Choose a day during that quiet time or season to give everyone a less-stressful day off. For Trello, this time happens in August.

Can you really give everyone the same day off?

For some companies, they can swing it. Our millions of users enjoy an effortless experience using Trello and we value their trust. So earlier, when I said we gave everyone the same day off,  I really meant that almost everyone got a day off. Some wonderful volunteers took a different day within a week of the official event.

Speak with different team managers, have them communicate with their team, and define a coverage plan. If that means everyone gets the same day off, then great! If that means someone has to work that day, then make sure they have an alternate day off and thank them.

 

Can you afford to give your employees a stipend to spend that day?

If your company can afford to give some financial support, I would recommend that you do. We did not have our NYC office team chip in to pay for the beach outing and it seemed reasonable to offer a similar benefit to our remote folks.

A stipend is not a requirement. If budgets are tight, you can work around this. A free day off alone is a small enough gesture that could have a big impact on employee satisfaction.

However, if you are planning an event for your office team, then you definitely have an events budget. Take a second look at the budget and see what you can reallocate to also treat your remote team.

How do you know what other people got up to?

Choose a place for people to post pictures and share their stories with the team. We used a Trello board to aggregate pictures. You might choose to create a dedicated chat room, maybe have a hashtag on social media, and then even have an API to share those posts in your chat room!

One of our team members proposed that we also spend some time during our company-wide meeting to go through our Trello board of the pictures. During our most recent Town Hall, I simply shared my screen of the board and told some great stories. Team bonding achieved!

At the end of the day, if you have trust in your team to run a company remotely then you should feel confident in organizing distributed events that bring everyone together, while also celebrating those different perspectives.

Rather than saving up your entire events budget to host a huge offsite once a year, why not set aside some funds to let distributed team members celebrate what working remote is all about? We think it will be a day that’s appreciated!

trello remote team member

Remote Trellist Amanda Alvernaz hiking in Brazil: "Went on a hike with some friends in Rio de Janeiro. It's one of the most beautiful hikes in Brazil starting in Petropolis city and ending in Teresópolis city, about 28km."

Next: How We Support Remote Culture And Come Together With Trello

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