UpBuild Team Day Fall 2017: Plans and Pumpkins

A couple of weeks ago, UpBuild had our second Team Day of 2017, and if you ask me, it was the best Team Day we’ve had so far.

What is Team Day?

Since we’re a fully remote team, we make sure to take time twice a year to get everyone in a room. It’s a good opportunity to get to know each other better, share some information about how the company is doing, and plan for the next six months. (Mike talked more about why Team Days are so important to us in his post about the first-ever Team Day).

The UpBuild team at Team Day Fall 2017.

Look at these awesome nerds.

A Full-On Retreat

Up until now, we’ve always had our Team Days in Portland. Since several team members (including Mike) live in Portland, it was a way for us to cut costs for travel and lodging — we could put the out-of-towners up in the same Airbnb where we had the event, and Portlanders could just come from their homes in time to start the day.

This made planning and logistics easier, but also meant that we had less of a full “retreat” experience — after a full day of business talk, the team tended to go our separate ways as the Portland contingent headed home. This is the first Team Day on which less than half the team (3 of the 8 of us) would be living in Portland, so it was a good time to look elsewhere. We decided to hold the retreat in a city where none of us lives, so everyone was on neutral ground.

Ultimately, we settled on Denver, because it’s a nonstop flight away from everyone in the company. Plus, Denver is a happening town with lots of great SEO going on. Little did we know that the date we selected for the retreat was the same week as the Great American Beer Festival — so finding an Airbnb for all of us in the city proved impossible. We ended up at a beautiful property in the remote town of Franktown, CO.

The UpBuild team enjoys a stroll in the Colorado woods.

Enjoying a stroll in the Colorado woods.

The team has grown by 3 people (James, Ashley, and Michelle) since our last Team Day, so for many of us, it was our first time meeting our newer team members in person! A couple Builders also brought along their partners, so we got a chance to meet them as well.

A Packed Schedule

Over the course of the day, we spent time on things like:

  • Mike’s semiannual “State of the Build” presentation — Mike took some time to reiterate our company story and values, gave us an overview of the company’s financial performance and outlook, and laid out a roadmap for the future. This State of the Build also included a section on UpBuild in 2030, laying out some possibilities for long-term growth.
  • Collaborative discussions around industry trends, new service offerings, and areas where we can improve our existing processes and deliverables.
  • A training on some of Google Optimize’s more advanced functionality, led by James.
  • A screening of some of the video from this year’s MozCon, followed by a lively discussion.
  • Roundtables on our company culture and brand, and how we can preserve the integrity of both as we grow as a business.
  • Exploring the beautiful woods around the property, and the return of our perennial Team Day favorite game, telephone pictionary.
  • Preparing and enjoying meals together, including a big spaghetti dinner.
  • Carving pumpkins together! Because it was October, and Mike and Ashley saw them while picking up supplies and couldn’t resist.

Carving pumpkins at UpBuild Team Day.

The team that carves together, stays together.

Thoughts

Since we instituted pair calls, the team has had more opportunities to get to know each other as people than we did in the past. It didn’t seem to me like I was meeting Ashley and Michelle for the first time, despite never having interacted with them in person. Still, it was great to get a chance to hang out with the team face-to-face, without worrying about delays, sound issues, or the other vagaries of video calling. I remarked to Mike at one point that the sound quality of our conversation was really excellent in person.

Remote work can provide fewer opportunities for spontaneous, unstructured interaction, which we’ve spent some time thinking about and trying to correct for on a cultural level (that’s part of the reason we have Team Day in the first place). The other side of that coin, however, is that there are fewer opportunities for familiarity to breed contempt; the UpBuild team is a refreshingly drama- and gossip-free group. I do think remote work plays a part in this, but I’d like to think it’s also a function of our very deliberate hiring process; the fact that we’re a bunch of shameless idealists who are big big nerds when it comes to technical marketing doesn’t leave much room for toxicity.

The big theme for this team day (and the issue that takes up a substantial amount of my own headspace) is “How do we grow while keeping UpBuild UpBuildy?” There will likely come a point when the company is big enough that Team Day drops down to once per year (although we discussed the idea of having dedicated workgroups, which would then have their own, smaller, Team Days). There will almost certainly come a point when our twice-weekly team meetings via Zoom get so big as to be unwieldy, and when the company gets big enough that pair calls don’t cycle through the entire company every couple of months.

I think the answer lies in trying to keep sight of our values as a company. Just about everyone on the team has, at some point or other, said to me how much they appreciate that UpBuild “walks the walk” when it comes to our values — so many companies have defined values, but struggle to live by them on a day-to-day basis. Being a values-driven culture means that a lot of decisions that might be difficult start to become easy; asking “What’s the UpBuildy thing to do” usually provides a solution.

I know that as we grow, we’ll likely make mistakes — mistakes in hiring, gambles on expansion that don’t pan out, engaging with clients who aren’t a good fit — but as long as we can keep sight of our goal of being a place that “…exists so that people who love technical marketing can make a living by doing their best work for clients they’re proud to partner with,” I think Team Day 2030 might just totally rule.

A pumpkin carved with the UpBuild logo.

Written by
Drawing on over a decade of digital marketing experience (both in-house & agency-side), Ruth leads the team to drive client strategy forward.

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