During October 2022 the Wholegrain team enjoyed a trip to Antwerp in Belgium. This post shares why we thought this would be a good idea, how we managed to make it happen, and what the team have to say about the recent experience.
Why did we go to Antwerp?
The initial idea to go to Antwerp arose during a team workshop in December 2021. We were envisaging what kind of an organisation we’d like to be in the future. One idea was to be the kind of organisation that might take a team trip to a European city where we could continue co-working while having an adventure. Piece by piece the idea came to fruition.
As a predominantly remote team we long for more time together in person. We have a great company culture and enjoy the moments that we get to spend together outside of work. Though we try to work in person from Somerset House each Thursday it’s not often that the whole team can make it in. Even if we are there together, it’s often only at lunch time that we can enjoy each other’s company in unstructured time outside of work.
The trip to Antwerp was born from a desire to nurture professional relationships, build on friendships, and to experience a new city to work from.
How did we make this happen?
We have a no-fly policy, so our location needed to be somewhere accessible by train. After considering Berlin and Amsterdam we settled on Antwerp. A favourite spot of Tom and Vineeta and easily accessible by Eurostar.
Once the location was fixed we found dates that worked for most of us, sought central accommodation, booked travel and packed our bags. We co-ordinated ourselves with our ‘self-organising’ hats on; everyone was given a personal budget for accommodation and travel so that we could be flexible and sort arrangements that worked for us individually.
Alongside a self-organising approach we had a few central people in the team holding the idea and pushing things forwards when decisions needed to be made. For example, Jerome (our Tech Lead) researched a co-working office and Vineeta booked the space. The ‘Brain Embassy’ was a perfect fit, and provided a space where we’d have access to workshop rooms as well as desk space for us to continue working.
Benefits of the experience
From my perspective as team coach I couldn’t imagine a more valuable experience for building friendships and fostering a great team culture. We were on an adventure, and the time felt valuable and meaningful. I felt a great sense of belonging and excitement at being part of such a wonderful group. We laughed a lot together, shared stories, explored the city (on foot and by bike), drank excellent coffee, went indoor climbing and ate wonderful food each evening – together.
There was plenty of time to talk about work outside of regular work time. Important challenges were discussed while strolling down the street, or when in the park. Especially when being remote, but equally difficult in a regular office environment, it’s often these informal conversations that are valuable in understanding each other, hearing a diversity of perspectives, and allowing sufficient time and space for the core issues to be explored (and hopefully resolved).
We also spent half a day with a Belgium based agency called Statik. They organised a sustainable web development conference and we had a great time exploring overlap and hearing about their parallel experiences.
What did the team think of the experience?
“By far my favourite thing about the trip was the sense of connection I felt with everyone in spending real quality time together and having a really special shared experience. Especially after a few very weird pandemic years, the trip gave me exactly what I had been missing. For me that was priceless.”Tom, Managing Director –
“I loved spending unstructured, unpressured time with the team. Particularly over the weekend, knowing that none of us had a train to catch or work that we were putting off was wonderful and meant we could really relax and just enjoy each other’s company.”Jerome, Tech Lead –
“I loved exploring the city and meeting the Statik team. It was so lovely to be welcomed by a similar agency doing such great work and attend the conference where we heard and learned so much about how the digital world is used and viewed in another part of the world.”Ben, Project Manager –
“The part I enjoyed the most was cycling around the city as a group by rental bike – exploring coffee shops, sculpture parks and finishing up climbing at an awesome bouldering centre. It was the perfect (unofficial) team building activity – combining problem solving with exercise; and the final outcome a sense of achievement and endorphins!
Also by learning more about each other as people, it will enable us to work better going forward. It was fascinating to see how different types of ‘thinkers’ see the world – outside of just how they do their job.”Louise, Developer –
“Above all, the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with colleagues can be transformative. Remote-first is great for the environment, but without ample time for human to human connection, can feel isolating. Getting to stay up late with colleagues and talk about all manner of life and work was the best. We even made some pretty great discoveries about Wholegrain.”Nick, Production Manager –
“The connection was amazing! We spent so much quality time with each other and time flew by!
During the brand discovery workshop, we were split into two separate groups working on archetypes that match our values. We ended up with the same 2/3 cards from a stack of 50 cards! We are really aligned as a team!”Vineeta, Account Director –
For many of us this trip has been a highlight of our time at Wholegrain. It’s really helped build great working relationships and has brought us together as a team. We made real progress on projects we were working on, and had time to discover solutions for issues that had been sticking points for some time.
I highly recommend considering how you could create a similar experience for your hard-working team, I’m sure you’ll see the benefits.