“I’ll have another mojito, thanks Andreas”. On that exact moment in my hammock at the beach bar in Kos – a deserted, windy but mostly sunny island in Greece – while looking at a few of my brand new colleagues diving into the swimming pool under a setting golden sun, I realised that we have taken big steps as a company over the past few years. Greece was my third retreat after previously scratching Morocco and Croatia off my list.

Being partly responsible for organising the annual getaway, it’s extremely fulfilling to see everything going according to plan, big smiles on new faces, and strong bonds being formed. I must admit, when planning and researching months ahead, I sometimes wonder if we don’t spend too much time, money, and effort on this holiday in disguise.

However, when sipping that fresh mojito and seeing a French guy getting a whooping by a Belgian colleague over a game of chess, I understood the importance of having a company retreat. Let me share these Greek thoughts with you. Sit back, get yourself a drink, and read on why I think it’s of the utmost importance that remote companies invest in lavish retreats.

The main reason ‘why’ is still the same

Things have changed over the years. Back in 2015, nine of us spent a few days in a small villa in Spain having to cook and clean everything ourselves. There was room for mistakes, improvisation, and intemperance. Skipping forward to last year, our retreat existed in two formats: a short edition for young parents and those who don’t like being away from home for a longer time; and an extended version with two more days full of activities and workshops in an almost private boutique resort in Greece, with luscious food, a personal trainer, and surprise activities.

However, the basic purpose of the retreats hasn’t changed. It’s the perfect opportunity to escape our regular routine, enjoy ourselves, revisit our identity and company goals and above all, getting to know each other better by meeting the face behind the Slack alias.

As a remote company, we believe this one week of being together is crucial. We want our people to be happy and joyful, therefore, knowing each other’s’ individual personalities and passions is essential. A shaky bus ride, an overdose of feta, and a windy sail trip help tremendously with this. Getting away from the screen and meeting each other in person at least once a year is a must for a successful remote company.

It’s a vacation, partly

We care about our people and we want our people to be happy. We have noticed that our team needs a morale boost as the sun fades just before Autumn and Winter kick in. Slack conversations dip a bit in this period, and the general drive and energy levels of the team also suffer during the holiday season. This is why we plan our retreat at the end of September. Everyone is back, summer is over, and we have something to look forward to. The retreat is the perfect way to recharge the team’s batteries.

During the week, half of the day is filled with work-related sessions, while the other half of the day is for free time and group bonding activities. We strongly encourage a healthy life-work balance and the yearly retreat helps just with that. On most days there are workshops planned where we dive deep into company related topics: there are panel discussions, technical workshops or cultural sessions. Additionally, everyone gives a 20-minute presentation about a subject they want to talk about.

We get shit done

The management makes sure every important meeting or discussion gets well documented or even filmed. In the weeks after our annual retreat, they take action on the feedback they collected in the group sessions. Last year, for example, we discovered the need for more personal feedback sessions, an internal blog for sharing happy moments and general messages, and an internal forum to discuss certain topics in more detail, outside swiftly Slack channels.

While we may not be working on day-to-day client work, we do work on company vision and goals, we work on personal projects, we’ve had hackathons and some colleagues are asked to give workshops to learn a new framework, tool or concept in detail. Sharing is caring.

We challenge our people

Proper and honest communication is key in all our work, so joining madewithlove means you will have to stand in front of an audience eventually. We know talking in front of a bunch of people can be a scary challenge, but we strongly believe in giving presentations to share knowledge.

With these quick talks, you exercise your presentation and communication skills. This will come in handy in the day to day job as being a responsible developer. Our developers do get plenty of time to prepare their talks and call for papers.

We aim high. Every year, we are greatly surprised by the quality of the talks. We have started recording them; maybe one day we’ll find the right platform to share them. Also, there are an impressive amount of interesting meetings and conferences. We challenge our developers to climb more stages and spread their knowledge and (madewith) love.

We say thank you

You can never give enough positive feedback, compliments, or encouragement. I also feel that saying thank you gets forgotten a bit too often. Our team retreat is the company’s way of saying thank you to the colleagues that give their best every day.

A lot of our applicants highlight this as one of the reasons they would want to work for us. It’s a special perk madewithlove offers their people, but it goes both ways. What is a better place to say thank you to the partners than by raising a toast on a Greek terrace on the flank of a mountain while handing over a few presents and a personalised notebook secretly created by the rest of team? Did we just see a little tear in your eye, Andreas?

What are we planning this year?

Everyone receives a long feedback form after the retreat to gather useful feedback, some praise or rotten tomatoes for the most recent edition, and points for improvement and other wild ideas for next year’s retreat. We try to do better every year, so my challenge is set. Do we mind sharing rooms? Should we go to snowy mountains instead of the sunny beaches? Should we arrange a partner-friendly edition? Would a road trip in a rusty bus be feasible? Should we go bungee jumping next time? I’m as curious as you.

So, where are we going to next? Nice try. We are not going to share this because the madewithlove team only finds out about the destination when they arrive at the airport the day of departure. The surprise adds to the experience. However, suggestions are very welcome. The planning for the 2019 edition has already started. Damn, I’m really looking forward to that next mojito right now. Schol!

Update 2019: we went to Tuscany, Italy!