It almost goes without saying that the last year has been a challenge: the longer days working, the Zoom fatigue, the isolation, the eye strain that comes from staring at a computer screen for hours. But business has worked, and productivity has not taken the nosedive people expected at the outset. And many have found positive aspects, including a much shorter commute and extra time to spend with family.
The benefits and challenges of the last year resonated with me in a new way when the IEX Cloud team came together for our first in-person onsite meeting since this all started.
As the Head of IEX Cloud, my biggest challenge in the last year was building a business and growing a team remotely. When I joined IEX Cloud 16 months ago, our team only had 12 people and we were still often referred to as the "newest" business at IEX Group, home of IEX Exchange, (the equities exchange made famous by the Michael Lewis book "Flash Boys.")
Now, 16 months since I joined and 14 months since the pandemic began, we have come a long way towards realizing our vision of building a modern high-performance API that solves for the financial data industry’s most critical pain points. We’re well on the way to doubling the team, we’ve added dozens of new partners, and tons of datasets. During that time, we also rebuilt key parts of our infrastructure that on a busy day effortlessly supports over 2.5 billion API requests with a less than 10ms average delivery time.
The IEX Cloud team accomplished so much given the circumstances – but half of us had never even met in person! And so it was time to bring us in to the mother ship – our amazing office at 3 World Trade Center in NYC.
Why meet in person?
Bringing the team together in-person enabled us to accomplish goals that can be much harder to achieve remotely:
- Helping new team members get to know their co-workers, both on a personal and professional level. This also included helping them get a sense of the amazing company they’ve joined. After all, the essence of a company is the team that builds it. For us, this meant enjoying long-time company traditions together, like “closing the market” and the “mandatory” after-work Keg party. (Thanks Ronan Ryan for the setup!)
- Getting everyone fully on board with our vision and mission as we move from startup to “scale up.”
- Identifying the key deliverables on our product roadmap and all our best ideas to help us execute.
- Brainstorming how best to work together as a team – we have been experimenting with a more “asynchronous” way of working – which given that we’ve hired a bunch of remote team members will be something that stays with us long after the pandemic is done and gone!
At the same time, meeting in-person at an office that hasn’t been used in more than a year can present challenges. Depending on your office’s policies, employees may even still need to socially distance and wear masks at their desks!
So here are a few takeaways for any of you planning to bring your new team members together for the first time – hopefully a handful of helpful tips for your first post-COVID offsite.
Tips for hosting your first offsite post-COVID
- Don’t over-pack the agenda! In our keenness to make up for lost time, get everyone on the same page, forge a plan for the next three months, we probably didn’t spend enough time just getting to know each other. Leave room for coffee breaks and opportunities for the team to organically spend time together. Plan for half a day of non-work teambuilding activities, ideally at the beginning of the offsite.
- Keep logistics in mind, especially for COVID protocols. For us, that meant self-certifying that we were vaccinated and weren’t experiencing any COVID symptoms. (We used an app for that called ReturnSafe!). Also make sure everyone can get into the building. Office passes may have expired in the last year of working remote, and new hires will likely need be given new passes of their own. Food deliveries were also a challenge and were always late on arrival – so get early delivery! For dinners, NYC restaurants are struggling to staff up and we had some lengthy waits there too.
- Make sure the tech is working. If like us you have digitally enabled conference rooms, check that they are operating and all the firmware is updated. Oftentimes these systems gradually die if left unattended. If you’re able to, it’s helpful to come into the office a few days before the meetings to test out your conference rooms. Luckily, our head of tech support was on hand to help!
- Spend time preparing video conferencing for remote attendees. You’ll probably have a few members of the team that won’t be able to join in-person. This past year we‘ve all gotten familiar with Zoom, but hybridizing remote and in-person meetings can present its own set of challenges. If you have team members dialing in, make sure you have Zoom conference links fully setup for each session, and that cameras and microphones are in the best possible position. Also don’t forget to pause discussions to include them in the conversation. With our all-hands sessions in a larger conference room, we found the best thing was to have everyone join on their laptops, while making sure to turn down speakers and mute microphones to avoid echoes. That way, remote attendees can see the speaker’s face. You can also do this fun effect if you sit in front of the room camera!
- Make sure you have some fun. It’s not every day that you get to all be together! At IEX this usually starts with beer (we have our own beer brand called Liquidity). In the picture below, that’s Ronan, IEX’s President and Keg master, changing the keg. We also broke open a COVID piñata as a symbolic and fun icebreaker!
Well – there it is – what we learned from our first in-person offsite/onsite since the pandemic. The bottom line is while it’s a lot of work, preparation, and a few challenges – it’s well worth it. We’re now ready for a busy summer!
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