Company retreats look different in 2020, so the BioRender team got creative this year: we hosted our very first virtual retreat and it was the best one we’ve had so far! Are you thinking ‘what is a virtual retreat’ or wondering how to host a virtual retreat? Here are the 6 things we learned from our first virtual retreat:
1. Retreats are a perfect opportunity to re-inspire your team.
Working from home has left a lot of us missing our colleagues, the water-cooler chats and the office banter. A virtual retreat is the perfect opportunity to re-inspire your team. A retreat brings together everyone in your team the way that we’ve been craving since we started working from home. Undoubtedly, 2020 has been full of challenges and our team has demonstrated unprecedented grit, perseverance and resilience that called for unprecedented reward and recognition. The theme of this year’s retreat was company values: we saw each and every one of our company values exemplified in all of our team members as they navigated the challenges this year brought, and we knew that this was the perfect opportunity to recognize and acknowledge them.
2. Send your team members a surprise retreat package.
We kicked off the retreat by sending each employee a retreat package: just because we couldn’t be together in person didn’t mean that we couldn’t enjoy some of the more traditional retreat favourites, like swag bags! In our brand new BioRender sweatpants and drinking coffee from our custom BioRender At Home retreat mugs (with a cartoon picture of each of us on it), our co-founders began the 5-day retreat with an exciting kick-off session. The entire company was buzzing when we learned that we’d be joined by Tom Preston-Werner and Dr. David Goodsell, two trailblazing pioneers in technology and medical illustration, respectively.
3. Invite world-class guest speakers to create buzz.
Our team was so excited that we were joined by 2 inspirational and word renowned guest speakers at our retreat. Two things we learned was that the timing and specialties of guest appearances are key. On the day of each keynote talk, we tailored our retreat programme around the specialties of the speaker. Our teams’ excitement from the keynote talk spilled over into all the other events that followed that day. Secondly, our team appreciated the breadth of expertise that the speakers covered (ie: scientific, computer science, visual arts, and start-up experience).
Tom Preston-Werner, founder of Github, carved time out of his schedule to inspire our team to never stop innovating and building. Our team was so excited to hear from Tom, especially our developers who often use Github in their work! He shared stories about the early days at Github where, if the team needed something, they’d just create it. He shared his insight on what it’s like to build a company, product, and team from the ground up. In the hour he spent with us, he shared years’ worth of expertise and insight with our team. Everyone walked away from that meeting feeling inspired and re-energized: feelings we’re all chasing, especially right now.
Do you want to join the BioRender team? We’re still growing and actively hiring! See our open positions.
Dr. David Goodsell, a world-renowned scientist and molecular artist, shared his expertise in scientific illustration and re-invigorated our joint passion to help everyone draw their science like an artist. Our team listened closely as Dr. Goodsell shared the highlights of his journey as both a scientist and illustrator. Dr. Goodsell was an early champion of medical illustration, emphasizing how important and powerful science visualization can be. Undoubtedly, his keen eye for captivating colour palettes and incredible attention to scientific detail has captivated the entire science community. Dr. Goodsell left us all feeling like we just couldn’t wait to start illustrating again.
4. Get personal: share your experiences and stories to bring your team closer together.
Retreats provide a rare, but coveted, opportunity to get personal with your team. You’ve been working hard, side by side, all year, but retreats provide an extra opportunity to connect with your team beyond the business. During our fireside chat, the co-founders took us through a hilarious, candid account of BioRender’s origins and how we got to where we are today. The entire team related to their personal stories of trial and triumph, including our humble beginnings of ‘squatting’ in the basement of a free co-working space for 8 months (complete with flickering lights), or the story of our CEO hand washing and ironing the conference booth table cloth (which was printed on a bedsheet) from her hotel room. Our team members joined in on the fun by reminiscing about their own memories and telling laugh-out-loud stories about their colleagues along the way. Sharing these stories brings you and your team closer together, fosters deeper connections and ultimately creates one of the best places to work: a place where everyone feels more like family than a colleague.
5. Rally the team by setting quarterly goals and objectives together
Retreats provide a great opportunity for cross-team collaboration. Oftentimes, our day-to-day work requires us to work with similar people and teams. When we planned our virtual retreat, we intentionally created opportunities for people and teams that don’t collaborate often to work together. In a series of breakout sessions, we shuffled people into teams of people that they don’t normally work with to participate in group exercises dedicated to our core company values. As a team, we brainstormed to set ambitious goals that will guide us through the next quarter and beyond. These exercises created even more opportunities for our team to connect with each other, ultimately bringing our team closer together.
6. Recognize your team’s achievements on the big (virtual) stage.
This year, our team members have worked under challenging and unpredictable circumstances, navigating unforeseen challenges and unchartered territory. A company-wide retreat is the perfect time to recognize your stand-out employees and teams for their efforts. After we spent a week designing our core company values, we recognized the employees that best exemplified the values that we decided together were the most important to us and the work we do here. A little appreciation really goes a long way: those receiving recognition were elated, but the entire team enjoyed recognizing our colleagues for their contributions. This year has been difficult and any time we can create a feel-good moment, we’re here for it.
This year has challenged us in ways that we didn’t think were possible, but our team truly stepped up and came together. Even though we couldn’t be together in person this year, our retreat brought us all closer together: BioRender isn’t just a team, it’s a family. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year: we’re ready.