Company meetups are a great idea for any company. They build unity and belonging, and let everyone celebrate success and discuss the future. But for companies like Timely, whose workforce is 50% remote, company meetups are essential; you simply can’t develop as a company without them.
We’ve just held our second annual meetup – flying in remote colleagues from eight different countries around the globe – and think we’ve nailed the formula. Take a look at our essential checklist (complete with examples) to help plan your own cracking company meetup.
Company meetup checklist
1. Choose a smart location
Choose a location that provides the right space for your activities (both internal and external). Consider language barriers, costs and accessibility issues that might make organization a pain. We based our meetup from our Oslo HQ, the birthplace of our company. We organized all accommodation within walking distance and had jumpers ready for the guys coming from Greece and Egypt.
2. Provide time for unstructured mingling
Structure is essential for any successful meetup, but you need to build in time for relaxed socializing. We want our people to get to know each other as actual human beings with personalities, not just talented specialists. We started our meetup with an hour of milling about – meeting each other, eating pastries and settling in – and built free time into the week to keep these interactions going.
3. Spread your message
Now you have everyone together, explain why it matters. Start your meetup with a brief history of the company, how you developed and what you’re looking to do next. We used our first session together to establish our commitment to each other, exploring how we want to work together and what we want to do in the future. It’s a great way to put the company in context and set your identity.
4. Hold skills sessions
Meetups are a brilliant opportunity to share knowledge and understand what different people do in the company. Get people from different departments to hold skills sessions and explain their work. The results can be huge – our entire company is now trained on our customer support messaging system, and we all (kind of) get how Timely’s ridiculously complex machine learning algorithm works.
5. Bond through food
Food = joy. Mealtimes provide precious downtime for bonding and people can even use food as a medium for sharing their own culture (homemade rakı, Polish treats and Wisconsin beer all provided excellent social entry points). Just make sure your menu caters for every dietary preference and socializing isn’t built around alcohol.
6. Distribute swag
Never underestimate the power of a branded company jumper – People LOVE swag. It helps build belonging and is a super cute way of making everyone feel included. Get inventive with your designs and make sure they’re quality, so people actually want to wear them. Consider getting people to submit designs ahead for the next company hoodie!
7. Give people space
The idea of spending 11+ hour days with a bunch of people you don’t really know can be overwhelming. If you work remotely, going from an isolated working environment to a loud, week-long social feast can be pretty shocking. So make sure you give people time and space to do their own thing – and don’t set expectations for what they should do with that time.
8. Use external facilitators
Some activities are best dealt with non-biased, external arbiters. When it comes to building company culture, we think it’s really important not to have managers leading or steering the discussion. So, we brought in an external facilitator to run an interactive workshop to help us improve cross-company feedback. It got people talking honestly in a neutral space, and we now have a robust feedback framework that everyone agrees upon.
9. Get new people to share their story
Meeting in-person Is infinitely better than meeting over the web. Use your meetup to let new employees introduce themselves however they feel comfortable. We set time aside so our new joiners could present “the story of me” – a mini presentation that they can structure and present however they like. You’ll uncover a load of hidden skills in your team and get useful cues on how different people communicate.
10. Push small group discussion
It’s hard to get to know people sincerely on a large scale, so move some of your activities into smaller groups. We divided the company into teams of 3-4 for various tasks, trying to mix people with different skillsets who don’t usually work together. The result was terrific – people really enjoyed getting to spend time understanding others' approaches and ideas, and it provided a starting point to build new relationships with different people.
11. Make people present
Obviously, you want your meetup to be engaging. A sure way of getting people to actually contribute is to get them to present. We created a bunch of problems which people had to solve creatively in groups and then present to the rest of the company. The need to present something physical at the end of a task helps focus people’s attention, and we found that people naturally wanted to share the responsibility of speaking when presenting as a group.
12. Include non-work-based fun
Meetups should be fun. Why? Because positivity is powerful; people relax and feel more confident opening up when they do something fun in a neutral environment. While we aimed to make all our meetup activities fun, we made sure to include off-site, non-work-related events. Movie nights, escape rooms, fancy dining and intense games of shuffleboard come highly recommended.
13. Brainstorm the company’s future together
If you’ve hired some smart people, you’re naturally going to want their ideas for your company’s future. But it also makes tremendous sense on a psychological level, since people feel much more committed and motivated when they are directly involved in building something. We asked everyone in the company to decide the future focus of Timely’s AI and pitch our next product feature – watch this space!
14. Document it
Meetups aren’t a superficial company PR stunt. The feedback people share is absolute gold. Make it easy to collect thoughts and ideas into one digital space for easy future reference. If you can’t be bothered to type up every post-it note, just photograph and upload them. Consider getting photographers in to visually document your meetup – it creates a ton of useful material and acts as a wonderful collective album everyone can engage with.
Over to you! Remember, meetups are essential tools for building the right culture for your company. Be inclusive, be imaginative and be ready – you’re going to be absolutely exhausted in the best possible way.