Inner Circle Labs WorkAway Week: What I Learned

For the first time in our short company history, we did a WorkAway week. This is a program we hope to sponsor annually. The idea, bring the whole team and work/play somewhere remote for a week. We are just wrapping up a week in the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. This lovely house is equipped with wifi and everything a group would need to have a good time. When we planned the trip, I knew we would have fun but I was a little nervous about how much I’d need to watch over the team to make sure everyone was productive and actually getting work done.

I have been surprised at how productive we have been – I would even argue that we were as productive as we would have been at home, when it came to tactical work, and that we took more time than we usually allow ourselves to brainstorm, think of creative ideas and think of new ways to improve the company and our partner programs. These “softer” things are critical – but they are easy to push off when an urgent media request or business need come up. Somehow, being three hours behind California and having one of the world’s most beautiful beaches 15 steps away, did wonders to get our creative juices flowing.

Beyond being super-productive, we also got to know each other better. As one of our esteemed cohorts just said “I wasn’t sure if we’d all get along being together 24/7 for a week, and we did!” Working in startup mode is like being a family in many ways – you have you’re good and bad days, you love each other one day and want to run away the next – and we learned a lot about our Inner Circle family this week.

A few things I learned about company-sponsored remote work trips:

  • People put more value on this sort of thing that it costs you to do it (by my calculations, the team wouldn’t trade this trip for any less than 5x what it actually cost to make happen).
  • When it looks like it might be hard to get actual work done in the far-away place, trust your team, they want to have the same opportunity again (huge motivator) and they’ll surprise you with their focus and drive.
  • Plan some team outings/exercises but leave some time to be spontaneous – sure, our trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center was great, but the bacon-wrapped hot dog incident, the “would you rather” game and our sea turtle sighting will always be close to my heart.
  • Let everyone pitch in – circulating through iPods, dinner chefs and “what should we do tonight?” planners kept it interesting and helped us get to know each other even better.

A few things I might do differently next time:

  • Get a bigger house and bring some of our amazing partners.
  • Hold less “planned” meetings so we could spend more impromptu time.
  • In the weeks prior to the trip, set some team goals to accomplish during the trip (both on the work and leisure fronts).
  • Buy more fruit and less meat.
  • Put sunscreen on my shoulders even if I’m only going for a short one-on-one on the beach.

Either way, let me encourage you to take your team somewhere and go work together – our pals at CrowdFlower spent a week in Tahoe,  Expensify takes the team away for a month each year – we are planning to go for a week each year. If you can afford even a two or three day stint, it’s money well spent to motivate the team, create a stronger bond and get outside your work comfort zone. There’s no question that we will remember this week for a long time – and be better at what we do for it.

For your viewing pleasure, Emily Joffrion jumping off of the rock in Waimea Bay. (P.S., her potty mouth makes a small showing at the end so watch out)

Update: Interesting read from another company with a remote work program, everyone’s doing it, man.

~ by Julie Crabill on May 28, 2010.

One Response to “Inner Circle Labs WorkAway Week: What I Learned”

  1. Wish that I had come along on this trip! I wonder if something like this could work at a big company, too. Lots of teams have team outings, but there’s no reason that a manager couldn’t give his entire team permission to work remotely for a week. Hmm. . .😉

    The only problem I see is that all y’all don’t have any childrens. WorkAway might be more difficult if you have 5 kids in the house, as your company grows.

    Still, I love this idea. Having fun and bonding with your coworkers really *is* important.

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