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Like many companies (even fully distributed ones), the onset of the global pandemic changed our plans. For Microverse, that looked like pausing in-person gatherings, when our next one was scheduled for just one month later - April 2020 - in Lisbon. Despite that, we quickly reorganized to make a remote team retreat happen within just a few weeks, and had a lot of fun!

Making our in-person team retreat happen

Eighteen months later, after a lot more planning, uncertainty, growth, and excitement, we finally brought our in-person team retreat to life in Lisbon, Portugal. From October 23-31 2021, Microverse team members from across the globe ventured to Lisbon. Although sadly, not all team members were able to join, we had 26 team members join the retreat over the course of the week. Some traveled more than 20 hours by plane, others just 1-2 hours by train, and all with negative covid tests to allow for a safer and more comfortable gathering.

Since we raised our Series A in July 2021, our team has been growing (we’re still hiring!), so it was such a delight to be able to bring most of the team together, after not being able to for over a year. We had team members join who had been with us for more than two years, and others who were set to start in a few months. To make this retreat happen took years of planning, and multiple team members (big thanks to Lydia, Gaby, and Andrea!) to coordinate, plan, book, schedule, eat, and workshop, our way to - and through - Lisbon.

All the hard work and planning really paid off! The team had a blast and made invaluable connections. One of our newest hires before the retreat, Benjamin shared;

“As someone completely new to the team, it was amazing to be able to have interesting, personal conversations with almost everyone throughout the retreat. Not only was everyone (extremely) friendly and smart, but also internationally-minded and driven to make a real positive impact on the world. It was clear that everyone at Microverse really believes in its mission and lives its core values in their daily lives. I left the retreat with a renewed sense of energy and inspiration, excited at the opportunity to be part of a company doing meaningful work.”

The value of in-person team retreats

Ensuring the Microverse team could come together for a week and spend meaningful, intentional time together wasn’t easy. A lot of prep work, from all team members, had to happen to make sure Microverse students, applicants, and our growing alum community were well tended to, while we strengthened relationships as a team. These preparations looked like going into a lite mode, similar to how we did for our last retreat, and ensuring we blocked off time in our schedule for team members to get to the urgent and operational tasks that make our full-stack web development program work.

So, was it all worth it? You bet.

Having time to spend in person with team members who are normally distributed across the globe is such a wonderful, enriching experience, that brings us closer as individuals, teams, and colleagues. It helps us build more trust, empathy and understanding for our amazing students, and for our day-to-day work. It was also not an experience we took for granted given the challenges that come with life, and travel, during covid. 

The value of in-person team retreats
A golden hour snap of some us sitting by the Tagus River

Overall, our in-person team retreat was a wonderful experience, where amazing bonds were formed, serendipitous moments occurred, and new ideas were suggested to continue to make our student experience even better. Beyond that, it was also a great learning experience about how to most efficiently use our precious in-person time to improve relationships and Microverse. We’ll share more about those learnings later, but first, let’s talk about what we did in Lisbon, and the experiences we had.

Autumn who joined our Career Services team in September shared, “I had only started at Microverse 6 weeks prior to packing my backs for the team retreat. Though my experience up to that point had been overwhelmingly positive, I did not know what to expect. Little did I know I would make deep connections and very real friendships over the next week. This trip is where I learned Microverse's commitment to bypassing the superficial and getting to the true, meaningful impacts is not limited to our mission, but to the dedication to creating a warm, genuine connection in its employees as well. I look forward to routine, company-wide meetings as a way to see so many of my lovely colleagues in one place.

Team offsite activities

Our team stayed in one central location in Lisbon so we could easily explore the city together as well as connect and partake in team-wide activities, like meals, workshops, impromptu yoga and meditation classes, and fascinating discussions. 

Team offsite activities
A beautiful building near our apartment in Lisbon, by Autumn

Throughout our week in Lisbon, we broke our time into five areas; 

  1. Free time 
  2. Non-work related team activities
  3. Work-related activities - team specific
  4. Work-related activities - everyone
  5. And of course, work time!

In addition to these activities, we also had many team dinners together, some that we ordered in, others filling up restaurants, and others that some team members cooked their local cuisines for.

The team enjoying some sunset snacks and drinks before dinner
The team enjoying some sunset snacks and drinks before dinner, selfie by me (Meesen)

1. Free time: We scheduled free time every day, but especially on the two weekends, and during weekday lunches. In this time, people relaxed, biked, went for food, taught each other painting or yoga, or went exploring. This time was so wonderful, and because many activities took longer than anticipated - as organizing or ordering for more than 5 people often does! - we plan to dedicate even more time to free time for future retreats.

Our People and Culture person, Stefania, joined our team in Lisbon, despite not officially starting with Microverse for another two months. She shared, "I was a little nervous to meet the team for the first time prior to joining the company. I got to Lisbon expecting a typical team retreat schedule packed with mandatory activities; I was so relieved and impressed to find a room full of great people, each doing what was most natural to them. Some chatting, some drawing, some playing on their laptops, some finding a space to do yoga together - and absolutely no pressure to be anything else but themselves. It was explicitly okay to take time to unwind and to choose where to be at any time. So refreshing and genuine, it felt like home right away."

2. Non-work-related team activities: We planned a number of non-work-related team bonding activities throughout the course of the retreat. These included: 

  • a walking tour of Lisbon,
  • a city-wide treasure hunt,
  • a team trip to explore nearby Sintra and a beautiful palace. 

Our day-trip to Sintra and Cascais was a particularly exhilarating day, with team members getting to take a break from work most of the day, to connect, explore, and ogle beautiful places, and nature, near Lisbon. 

Non-work-related team activities
Ariel (CEO) takes a ‘team selfie’ near the eastern most part of mainland Europe
Nico (Marketing) & Juanjo (COO) on our excursion to Sintra, Portugal
Nico (Marketing) & Juanjo (COO) on our excursion to Sintra, Portugal.

The team visited a palace near Sintra, explored old, historic towns, tasted delicious pastries, and took some amazing photos. Throughout the day, team members got to connect across teams and functions, getting a chance to chat and build relationships with people they may not interact with as often at Microverse.

Though our team members are all very unique, everyone shares a love of learning more about other cultures and exploring new places, so these activities were great ways to do so. The treasure hunt also brought out some team members’ competitive sides and others ‘silly’ sides.

Eric snapped a photo of ‘fountain fishing’ for the team scavenger hunt
Eric snapped a photo of ‘fountain fishing’ for the team scavenger hunt

3. Work-related activities - team-specific: As we had many new team members, we wanted to ensure there was time for different departments at Microverse to connect and workshop challenges specific to their areas. These activities included things like; 

  • an engineering team architecture workshop
  • a persona mapping workshop
  • a leadership personalities workshop
  • And more!

In-person time allowed for brainstorming, cross-team collaboration, and great discussions around our biggest challenges, and opportunities, and how we can tackle them.

Microverse team during the persona mapping workshop
Some of the Microverse team during the persona mapping workshop.

4. Work-related activities for everyone: With team members from 15+ countries, we wanted to ensure we made time to do workshops that involved everyone and helped us better communicate with and understand each other. To do this, we participated in;

  • A Culture Map workshop
  • A Microverse Values exploration workshop
  • An origin story of how Microverse came to be from Ariel, Microverse’s founder

These activities were also great as we got to learn more about each other, as well as Microverse and how it came to be. The Culture Map workshop was a particularly interesting one, with team members from more than 15 countries, and cultures, many of whom live elsewhere than where they were born. When new team members start at Microverse, we encourage them to read The Culture Map in order to better understand and communicate with others on our team. 

In the Culture Map workshop, we first talked about what the key points of The Culture Map book were, then took this culture mapping quiz, to determine how we mapped to our ‘home’ culture, vs other team members cultures. It was insightful to learn how different cultures had varying results, for example; those from Poland fell into the mid-range of the scale of high-low context communication, while those from the United States fell towards the low-end of that scale.

5. Work time: Despite going into lite mode, we still made sure to set aside about 1-3 hours of work time per day, depending on the team member and role. For future retreats, we will be thinking about how to make even more space for work, as well as continue to reduce the tasks of team members that week so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

Learnings from our team retreat

We learned a lot at our team retreat, about ourselves, other team members, our students and their experience, and of course, how to continue to improve our team retreats for our growing team. Some of our key learnings were:

  1. We love being together - it’s the absolute glue of any fully-distributed company and an invigorating experience. It also enables us to be better, kinder, and more innovative remote workers between team retreats.
Learnings from our team retreat
Team photos by the waterfront in Lisbon
  1. We love our students and we learned just how invaluable it was to be able to support them, and ideate on future improvements for them, while in the same location.
  2. We learned that what makes our team unique in the eyes of newcomers is how we make space for every single person to be themselves. We love our unique each of our team members is, and the different perspectives they bring to continue to make Microverse a better place to learn, and to work. 
There is nothing better than meeting your workmates in a historic city, and realizing that for all the different personalities, all share the same level of passion and intrigue," said Marco, who joined our Student Success team in mid-2021.
  1. We learned not to over-schedule. Even more than before covid, people need space to relax, hang out, and sometimes, to be alone in their rooms. We respected that as a team, and did not want to make anyone feel pressured to have to be ‘always on’. 
  2. We learned that we need to plan in advance, but also that we need to accept that our plans might be disrupted by the current situation or unexpected happenings.
  3. We learned that as we deliberately keep hiring in the areas our students come from, we need to plan for more time and support for new team members to get visas for travel and any necessary covid-related travel documentation.

Want to join our next team retreat?

We’re already planning our next retreat for June 2022 and expect to have close to 60 team members from 25+ countries in attendance! Although it requires a lot of planning, with our ambitious goals and all the work in front of us, we know it’s important to meet with one another in person and create that magic as early as possible. 

Sound like a team and culture you’d like to join? We’re hiring!

Want to join our next team retreat
Come join the fun at Microverse!

Want to join our next team retreat?

We have launched an English school for software developers. Practice speaking and lose your fear.

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