Recap: Stem’s First Corporate Retreat

This year, while our US clients were celebrating Thanksgiving, the five folks who make up Stem Legal were gathered in Mission, BC for our first ever corporate retreat. It’s taken me a little while to put together, but this post aims to shed a little light on the inner workings of our small but energetic company.

We spent our two days together planning, sharing, and brainstorming, with breaks here and there for fresh air (our excursion to Westminster Abbey, with its spectacular lookout over the Fraser Valley, was a highlight for us all), good food, and lively conversation. Here are my highlights of the retreat:

Face Time
Stem Legal opened for business in 2007, and since then, the company has grown at a slow but steady pace to five team members. As a virtual company, we’d all met Steve but many of the rest of us had never met in person. Our retreat was the first time all five of us were in one room together – no small feat considering we live in four different cities across three provinces. It was an absolute pleasure to finally meet Jordan Furlong, whose name I knew long before I worked for Stem, as well as Corry Balachsan, who keeps our company running, our paycheques coming in, and Steve from going too crazy (and who really needs a profile on the website)! And I’ve known Laurel Fulford for ages, but it had been almost two years since we last saw each other. There’s really no substitute for spending time together in person, and to me, this aspect of our retreat was the most valuable.

The Big Picture
One of our goals for the retreat was to look at the big picture – what direction do we want to take Stem, and how will we do that? To that end, Jordan led us in an strategic planning session where we imagined what our company will look like in three years – sky’s the limit. We took a few minutes to individually jot down our ideas and then shared them with each other. After everyone had shared their vision of Stem, it was encouraging to hear Jordan remark that we’re extremely typical in terms of where we’re at, for a company of this size and age, but also remarkably aligned in our aspirations for Stem’s growth and positioning within the legal web industry.

We also discussed some new ideas for blogging (WordPress Wednesdays is one such idea – see Laurel’s first post here). We identified skills we’d like to learn or improve upon, and discovered that many of us want to spend some of our working hours on creative projects of personal interest – sort of like Google’s 20% time (in short, we want to have a little more fun!). And we talked at length about a revamp of the company website — that’s one project we’re really excited to be working on over the coming months.

Bridging the Distance
As I mentioned earlier, two thirds of our company works independently from home. Because of that, I sometimes feel a bit disconnected from my colleagues, and often miss the social aspect of working in a physical office, so I led a discussion on the challenges of working from home. We all agreed that working from home has many benefits (especially for introverts, which many of us claim to be!) but that we could do better in the connectedness and team spirit departments. We decided to start a habit of sending weekly emails to each other, detailing what we’ve done during the past week, what we’ll be working on in the coming week, and one or two interesting or notable things we’ve learned. Even after the first round of these emails, the difference was remarkable: I had a much better sense of what my colleagues are up to, what I might able to help them out with, and what their priorites are.

All in all, we felt like our first corporate retreat was a success, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s get-together. We’ve got some ideas for what activities we’d repeat and how we’d tweak our format. Do you have tips on what makes a great corporate retreat? Or ways that virtual companies can be more connected? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear your ideas. Cheers!

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