In April of this year, we decided to do something that felt bold, exciting and even raised a few eyebrows. Something that nobody would have given a second thought to if we had done it 18 months earlier.
We decided to host a summer offsite. For the whole company. In another country.
It wasn’t easy and there were plenty of challenges along the way, both before and during the three-day event in Portugal. But I’m happy to say on behalf of the entire leadership team at Urbantz and everyone I’ve since talked to who attended, that it was absolutely the right thing to do.
Why did we decide that now was the time to get back out there? A big part of it was a realisation among those of us whose Urbantz careers predated the pandemic of just how much the company has evolved between March 2020 and June 2021.
I joined Urbantz in September 2019, just a few short months before everything changed. For all the pain and damage that COVID has caused, it also brought an explosion in demand for urban deliveries as consumers started to shop online in far greater volumes.
Urbantz was already scaling up very quickly. But the accelerated need among retailers, grocers and logistics businesses for an effective last mile management platform like ours kicked the process into overdrive. As a result, last year saw us achieve 2.0x growth and rank third of Deloitte’s 2020 Fast 50.
In less than a year-and-a-half since the pandemic began, we more than doubled our workforce to over 70 people, raised a total of €12 million in Series A funding and adapted to an entirely new way of working. All remotely.
But we’d never actually met face to face with many of the people whose contributions helped us achieve these feats. And as effective as remote collaboration tools like Zoom are, humans are sociable creatures in the end.
Hybrid working is here to stay at Urbantz and that’s something reflected in our talent acquisition processes. But as successfully as we have collaborated remotely during the pandemic, we were acutely aware that home working can bring its own challenges.
For some, juggling their personal and professional lives in one space can be trying. Others have a tendency to work longer hours without a clear divide between work and home. And there’s always a risk that interacting with one another solely through screens can hinder that sense of team spirit that is so important to growing companies like ours.
And after more than a year away from the office, we knew it was time to take a step back and reflect as a team on the massive changes our organisation has gone through on this scaling journey.
What better way to do that than by coming together in a safe way in the beautiful town of Ericeira? Just north of Lisbon, this sun-kissed coastal fishing community doubles up as one of Europe’s hottest surfing spots.
But how to ensure everyone’s safety and overcome the logistical challenges of travelling with so many different guidelines and restrictions in place? After all, our team is stretched all across Europe and beyond.
First things first, we stressed from the very beginning to everyone at Urbantz that there was absolutely no pressure to come if they weren’t comfortable travelling or their personal circumstances made it difficult to do so. It was the number one priority that everyone felt safe and at ease.
Then we ensured that everyone who was travelling got their PCR tests (charged to the company, of course!), which was a requirement for entry into Portugal. It took a lot of time, but we also went through the painstaking task of making sure we had all the necessary insurance policies in place, in case someone had to cancel at the last minute.
Once we arrived, we stayed together as a bubble. In the hotel and for the events that we had arranged, we always made sure that we could avoid other groups and individuals who are not part of the colony. As an example, we decided not to book meals in the town’s beautiful restaurants, but instead arranged our dinners together at the hotel.
The concept of the offsite was simple. To run a mixture of company workshops in the morning looking at our company vision and mission, as well as the shared values that join us together and make #LifeatUrbantz more than just a 9-5.
Then, we arranged fun activities in the afternoon and great food in the evenings! I’m glad to say that most of our team made it out to Ericeira and enjoyed a safe, socially distanced offsite. For those who were not able to come, we dialed them into the workshops and tried to make sure they felt as included as possible.
There were some technical mishaps unfortunately, mainly with the Wi-Fi, which was fine when we tested it just before the presentations began, but then proceeded to fizzle in and out – much to the bemusement of those watching from home. So we quickly changed the format and shared presentations with remote workers as on-demand assets they could consume at their own pace.
Hopefully by the time we do this again, enough normality will have returned that everyone can make it to our next offsite. If not, we’ve learned some valuable lessons on the best way to host a hybrid physical and virtual event.
In the end, the event was a success! Everybody on site got in the mood and there were great vibes from the first minute to the last. The workshops were productive and we were able to think together as a group about what sustainability really means to our business and also to us as individuals.
We’ll definitely continue organising these events in the future, along with other forms of team gathering, as the rules allow. It was certainly challenging getting so many people across so many different borders. But pulling off the trip to Ericeira and hearing all the positive feedback from who went has certainly given us the confidence to arrange something even better next time!