Kicking things offsite: TextNow in Mexico
In 2022 TextNow held its first ever offsite all-hands meeting all the way down in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We caught up with Kelsi Cochran, our VP of People and Culture, to chat more about how, and why, we decided on a “Destination” all-hands meeting, and the takeaways from our memorable time of team building.
Why are offsite meetings so important?
In my previous life at other companies, I found it especially useful to have off-site meetings, so people can put a face to a Slack username. In TextNow’s case, the majority of our workforce is remote, as more people are utilizing our Work Best policy. So, it is even more important to have a way people connect away from computer screens.
What’s your experience been like working from home, as opposed to going to an office? Compare experiences in working the office vs. WFH and what works best for you?
I’ve always been at companies who had a work remote/deciding for yourself philosophy. It’s one of the things that drew me to TextNow because we let people decide depending on what is going on in their life with regards to work. Everyone has different needs, and TextNow is putting in the effort to make sure everyone is accommodated.
Pre Covid WFH – people thought you had to be together to work and get things done but now you can WFH without that need to be all together in an office setting. You have to be willing to be aware and communicate and spend the money where it needs to be spent to make sure things are working. Communication needs to be double downed on – staying committed to being open and transparent is especially important when letting people decide where they work best.
At TextNow we have people spread across four time zones, so we need to be extra aware of that, through careful planning and respect for other people's time.
These days people working remotely have PTSD feeling like they need to be available 24/7. At an office you can be seen at your desk working and you are so much more able to let go when you go home. Whereas with remote work you are not “seen’” in the office so we think we need to be quick with all responses on slack, email, etc. You feel like you are not able to leave your work behind.
Where we need to improve: Communicating empathetically and in an equitable way with speed of online responses and find a balance for the expected time it takes people to respond online.
How is it different now with our Work Best philosophy (remote, in-office, or whatever mix works best for you) when trying to connect with other employees?
Right now, you have to take opportunities and make more time to connect with people and be more deliberate about connecting with others, whether they are on your team or not, or if they are just starting out or they have been with the company for a while.
People tend to not take time to intentionally connect with people in meetings, to just chat. Starting a meeting off with a quick “Hey, how are you doing, how’s your family? How’s your dog?”
Whereas in an office environment you could stop and chat for a quick moment throughout the day.
Now people have back-to-back meetings and people can’t take the extra time to chat about things going on in life because they don’t want to go over time and be late to the next meeting. We need to make sure we’re taking ownership of our calendars and building more time out to be deliberate with connecting
Covid has reminded us how important relationships and connections are but it's also caused exhaustion and Zoom fatigue.
I encourage people to connect by blocking time off in their calendars. Ask yourself: “who haven’t I checked in on in a while?” and start from there. Could be a few minutes via Slack or a coffee chat or a happy hour.
I leave 20 mins a day to reach out to people I have not caught up with or spoken to in a while to pop in and say hello.
We don’t and shouldn’t want the only time people reach out to one another to be when they need something. This is something everyone can improve on.
What are some tips for things we do as a company to help people get to know one another?
Donut chats, Slack channels, EDI initiatives, travel, and virtual events over Zoom are all good starts.
Be intentional about taking time to reach out to someone you don’t know, connect with new hires, ask about people on a personal level.
Suggest ideas to your manager like, “We haven’t done a team building meeting in a while, let’s plan something.” Or “Let’s collaborate on a Spotify playlist to make the official team ‘soundtrack.’
Ask people things like “show me your favorite pic on your phone,’ or “What’s your number one thing on your bucket list?” Asking about things like this opens the convo to something they are passionate about. Conversations will flow naturally if people are engaged with good questions - especially if they are an introvert.
Look up things they have posted about in the past and check in on things before speaking to people. Not everyone is extrovert. It allows them to settle into the conversation and makes it less intimidating when you show interest in what they have to share.
Can you tell us about the purpose of the offsite event, and how we decided to tell the story about why TextNow works the way it does?
I’m a big advocate for kick offs. When our senior leadership team was in Montana last summer for our first SLT offsite, I suggested a company-wide kickoff held offsite. We had Originally planned for January to kick off the new year, but covid was bad then and it wasn’t safe or responsible of us to get everyone together. Since then, it's been an 8-month planning and waiting game.
I felt a company offsite is important for people to feel connected to their colleagues – and to feel we have a shared mission and vision.
Planning started in Q4 2021. We took the history of TextNow as a starting point to look and why we focus on the areas we do, and why people should be proud about working for TextNow
I know when I joined, I didn’t fully grasp the capacity we have to help people. TextNow is making the world a little better. I mean, has anyone worked where the company is trying to figure out how to make the product better and cheaper instead of worse and more expensive?
How was the turnout? Was it a successful offsite?
I score the offsite a 20 out of 10! I am so proud of everyone's presentations and how everyone showed up and leaned in and made an effort to get to know new people, learn, and interact.
Sitting back and hearing the roars of people on day 2 – by that day everyone knew each other and were close friends. People left saying “can’t wait to see you again! This was awesome and I can’t wait for next year’s!” I think we all walked away from the offsite more empathetic, passionate, understanding, and patient. And we reignited excitement of what we’re doing as a business
People were all in the whole time! We certainly didn't have to worry about people not being engaged – people were genuinely enjoying themselves.
What’s the biggest benefit you see to the team after an event like this?
Grace, collaboration, and brainstorming.
So much of the business depends on cross collaboration. It showed people how silos are not an option, and helped a lightbulb click-on when talking to people outside of their teams and roles.
People saw their fingerprints on things they never saw before. People were able to thank people in real life for different things they have worked and collaborated on.
What was your favorite thing? Any unexpected or fun surprises?
Wednesday afternoon was some free time, so I went to check on things, and came back to the pool and it was FULL of Textnovians! TN had taken over and it was people's free time and they wanted to spend more time together. It was so nice to see everyone together and having a great time.
What’s was your biggest takeaway from the All-Hands?
Making sure we give enough time for Q&A next year! Everyday open conversations were valuable, and we do not get enough opportunities to do it normally.
Also being somewhere warm was nice! I would go to a beach venue again. Makes it easy with everything in one place. Also, we need to plan the next one earlier to get a date booked asap so people can put in calendars and plan accordingly.
In your opinion what were some of the MVPs of the offsite?
Fun bringer – Andi
Most social – Terrance
Best dance moves – Laura
Funniest moments with – Ant
Best MC EVER – RICKY