Our Greatest Investment
We are remote. We spend a third of our waking hours in one another’s company. We collaborate, chat, laugh, learn, and sing poorly-synchronized “happy birthday” songs over Google Hangouts. We see each other every day on video conferences, but we rarely hang out in person.
Once a year, we, here at Modern Tribe, come out of our remote office dens and make a special trip to an exciting destination so that we can put down our pencils, kick up our legs, and soak up the good vibes that happen when we get together in person. This is when we migrate from all corners of the hemisphere to join as a bona fide community for a week. This, being our 10th annual adventure together, was by far our largest, arriving 73 Triberians strong.
The fact that this trip is our largest annual investment may come as no surprise, but it speaks to something deeper in our ethos. It speaks to our commitment to our community. Modern Tribe is nothing without our phenomenal people. We put this whole shindig together so we can reboot our solidarity.
Connect & Build Trust
Working remotely is great for all sorts of reasons. Though, one thing that can be a challenge when you aren’t actually sharing a space with someone is empathy. When we stand together, we’re reminded that we are all real, breathing, hard-working, loving, passionate people.
Align Our Vision
Working in a silo and surfing your daily workflow, it’s hard to elevate and see the bigger picture. Our team trip is the best place to create and share a vision of our collective future.
Share Our Knowledge
We are a culture of entrepreneurs. We default to solving our own problems before looking for existing solutions. There’s nothing like sipping on a Latitude Adjustment with some coworkers on the beach to call out some shared ideas and get people on the same page.
Get Out of Our Comfort Zones
We are creatures of habit. We have patterns that often help us but sometimes hinder us. It can take a bit of a shakeup to loosen the creative gears. This trip offers a chance to see things through fresh eyes. It’s not always comfortable but it tends to be quite rewarding.
Have Fun Together!
With each trip, we strive to foster a space where we can share a meaningful memory. A milestone in our grand journey together.
Bonus points: the fact that we do all of this in late winter helps renew our spirits and welcome the new year.
Learning to Listen
This year’s trip arrived upon an intersection of company growth and broader cultural sensitivity. We are now a company that is big enough that I had to make a roster just so that I could memorize everyone’s names and photos ahead of time. This shift in size coincides with a broader cultural exploration into what it means to embrace diversity and inclusion. While Modern Tribe is far from having all the answers, we are actively engaged in learning and in applying those learnings to our company, engaging team members in the diversity and inclusion goals and discussions, and trying to move from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. This starts with listening.
What’s more is that as a remote company where the vast majority of the company works from home, we likely have a disproportionate number of introverts on our team. That’s totally cool with us. In fact, we celebrate it. But that does pose a solid challenge when we get 73 people together for a week in a foreign country. This year, we made an active effort to seek out and listen to the voices advocating for more personal space.
One of our team trip veterans, Geoff Graham, pointed out that he was concerned that our size is starting to make our team trips feel more like a conference and less like an intimate gathering deserving of a company bearing the name Modern Tribe. Perhaps, to some degree, this is inevitable at our size. Nonetheless, we strive for intimacy, but only upon a foundation of safety.
We set about rethinking the agenda. We consciously restructured it to minimize time in large groups in favor of small units. We made an effort to give people the space to socialize within the groups where they are most comfortable, the groups that they work with most regularly, and perhaps most importantly, no group at all. In fact, the diversity and inclusion group went out of their way to acknowledge that it is important to know that you are not obligated to get out and socialize. It’s okay to simply retreat and reenergize. Representing the group, Reid posted the following in our team trip slack channel:
@channel – coming at ya
I hope everyone is getting excited for the trip. I figured today might be a good day to plant a little seed in the back of your brain. This is a gentle reminder that this is a work trip. You’re traveling with your coworkers. I’m excited that there are 20 Modern Tribers on a flight from Denver (this seems like an ideal photo op) – but this isn’t MTV Spring Break. While you’re in Belize, please remember that these are the people that you work with and they deserve your respect. We’re an unconventional company, and there is 100% likelihood that you will have a riveting work conversation while floating in a pool and drinking a pink froufrou drink. Enjoy the heck out of that, but also remember that the person in the next floaty over is your coworker. It can be weird to sit next to your coworkers in your swim suits. It’s also pretty awesome. Don’t make it weirder. The only swimsuit you should be commenting on is me in my Apollo Creeds.
Some of us got into remote work because we’re not always wild about social situations, and this trip, though delightful, can be really stressful. Do your best to keep that in mind. Sometimes treating people with respect just means giving them some space if they need it. If someone ghosts out in the evening that’s ok, maybe they need to recharge. Also keep an eye out for each other. Some of us struggle to dive into conversations and may need an invite to join in.
Some of you are super close, and you have strong relationships. I love that more than anything. Just remember that the people around you aren’t always privy to your inside jokes and mannerisms. Some of you tease each other a lot, and it’s all love between ya. But it can set a weird tone to the people around you who aren’t in on the joke. It’s a weird point, but thought it was worth noting. If you see someone looking lost, invite them to join your crew.
One final note about booze. Have fun. Drink piña coladas and banana bungees and whatever you want. But keep it reasonable. I’m sure I’ll have one too many piña coladas at some point on this trip and that’s cool (NO KIDS!!!), but I’m not gonna do jager shots and barf all over the pool. I also have zero interest in hearing a “I had too much to drink and that’s why I was an asshat to my fellow Triberian” defense. Buy your teammates beers, payback all those favors you owe – but if someone says no, remember that lots of folks don’t like alcohol for a million different reasons, so don’t make a big deal out of it. Also, we expect you to be capable of participating in conversations in the morning. Being painfully hungover and missing sessions is uncool.
I’m am super happy to say that we’ve not struggled with this stuff in the past. I don’t have any reason to think we’ll have problems this year either. I just wanted to get it out there. Have a stupid awesome fun time. Don’t be an asshat.
I love these trips, and while Belize itself is going to be fantastic – it’s really getting to spend the week with you all that is awesome. We could do this at the Ramada Inn in St. Paul and I’d be just as excited.
Heart & Craft
We used to have evening talks. They helped us learn about each other, to form memorable moments, to be vulnerable, and to have some fun. We told tales of fame, (mis)fortune, and lessons learned. We shared origin stories, performed songs, and recounted a harrowing escape from wild goats sporting dreadlocks. And while we would love to continue to compel people to share their innermost personal experiences with a huge group of work colleagues from all over the world, the truth is, we have outgrown the story sessions.
In their place, we ran an experiment called Heart & Craft: A day to get into a small group and see what we can produce together. The pitch went something like this:
The idea is that this is about scratching an itch. This is about bridging gaps and meeting people. This is about letting go of how you define yourself professionally and crossing the lines of your expertise. Working fast and loose. Cranking something out. This is somewhere in between work and play. If you are stressed out about it, then you are working too hard. If you are on your fifth piña colada and have started to make up names for all the clouds then you are playing too hard. If you are getting to know people on your team personally, you are participating in some way in the project and you are laughing a lot, then you’ve found just the right spot. This is why we intentionally called it “Heart & Craft” day and not “Profitable business development day”.
Now, we’re pretty democratic about things around here, but in this case we decided to try assigning people into groups and assigning specific and unique challenges to those groups. I am blown away by how successful that was! Every single project exceeded my expectations. People had a ton of fun. We’ve already rolled out several of the resulting policies and technologies and are working on more of them as we speak.
We set up a game show environment to present the projects featuring buzzers, blinky lights, interstitial comedy, and ‘60s game show transition songs. It was entirely bonkers and a total riot.
If you’re thinking by this point that all of this talk about diversity, inclusion, hack-a-thons and company trajectory means we’re all work and no play, well…okay, fair point. We do get a heckuva lot of work done in these excursions. But the annual Modern Tribe team trip would never be complete without some epic adventure and general tomfoolery.
We tweaked the schedule this year to open up larger and more frequent spaces of time that had no specific agenda. This created a pseudo choose-your-own-adventure sort of thing that made room for rest, bike rides along the Belizean peninsula, impromptu 10K runs, team tai chi lessons, Karaoke at the Tipsy Tuna, poolside chillaxing, and, of course, Jimmy Fallon-style rap battles.
This year also featured another epic soccer (err, sorry, futbol) match hosted by our resident expert, Nick Mastromattei. Several local kids joined our impromptu league and schooled us with their fancy footwork.
The crown jewel of these trips is the chance to soak up the scenes of the awesome location that we’re visiting. Belize is a majestic tropical paradise with more sights than even a group our size could ever fully take in – but we sure did try when we set sail on a two hour boat ride off the coast to the remote island of Ranguana.
This was the tiniest of tiny islands—the kind you might expect to see on a postcard or a poster accompanied by some inspirational quote about how life’s a beach. Seriously, the sand was so white, the water stunningly clear – and we had it all to ourselves for one incredible afternoon. From volleyball matches and paddleboarding to snorkeling with stingrays, from frilly drinks to hammock naps, this was a collective memory that none of us will forget any time soon.
🏝 🏝 🏝 🏝 🏝 🏝 🏝 🏝 🏝 🏝
We’d be remiss to not give a shout out to the Belize Ocean Club for their part in making this a memorable experience for us. They are the epitome of great hosts and took great care of our big tribe. None of this would have been possible without their generous hospitality and wonderful venue.