A Completely Transparent Recap of our First Uncut Company Retreat (details & budget included)

Going from "remote work" to a truly remote team

What do you get when you mix eight remote coworkers who have never met in person, 20+ bottles of wine, and six days in a Greek villa? Before we each embarked on our flights — Jeremy and Carlos fresh off a conference in Berlin, Pauline at Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Alicia from Washington DC, Nicho from Portugal, Andriy from Ukraine, and Pawel from Poland — that was a pretty open question.

Now that we’re each back home in our respective countries and have had a few days to reflect, we wanted to share our biggest takeaways with you.

In the spirit of complete transparency, here's a few takeaways and reflections from our first company retreat.

1. You can't have a true remote "team" without meeting in person.

There's a recurring phrase that we heard throughout the retreat: when you're communicating with coworkers online, it can feel a bit like walking on eggshells. Before you've established an individual rapport with someone, you're communicating with their professional alter ego. Sometimes it's hard to get at the root of a problem because you're scared of being misinterpreted, or bruising someone's ego, or you're simply not sure it's "your place."

The effect of meeting someone in person is a bit like imagining them in their underwear. All of a sudden, the person in front of you is not simply a manager or a coworker, but a human being. Maybe they have greasy hair from a long flight, or a funny tic you never caught on screen, or maybe their smile shines that much brighter sans filter. Positive or negative, you can't simply shut down your laptop and forget about them. Instead you develop a stronger sense of empathy, connection, and understanding.

We all agreed that, now that we've met, our communication with one another can feel a bit more authentic and honest. We're speaking to people first and foremost. The truth is humans are emotional creatures, and startups are emotional ventures. Without an emotional understanding of one another, we'd be missing out on our full potential.

2. Not everything will be glamorous, and that's a good thing.

You learn much more about your coworkers — and that much more quickly — on a retreat than you will ever learn at the office. Sometimes — like when someone jumps into a freezing pool after too much Polish vodka at 2 AM and you can't go to bed until you've grabbed them a towel and made sure they're OK — the memories make for good laughs and quick bonding.

Other times, the togetherness can be more challenging. For instance, when 8 of you are sharing 2 bathrooms in a villa where you can't flush toilet paper down the toilet, who's going to take out the trash and kill the flies circling round the trash bins? Err.

Creating positive memories and excitement about a team's potential is one reason to do a retreat. Another is that classic team building cliché: you need to learn how to overcome less glamorous obstacles. It brings everyone down to earth with a healthy dose of humility and keeps egos in check.

3. Company Culture is a Magnified and More Pristine Version of Who You Already Are

It’s easy to throw out keywords about the culture we want to facilitate at Uncut: a little rebellious, with a sense of urgency, creative, fun... but what does that mean, really?

I think it was our designer Nicho who said one night: "our company culture is us." Observing ourselves "out in the wild" allows us to take the best of our personality traits and channel those into everything else we do. Just as we're putting a name and a face to our creators' communities, we finally have a name and a face to our own. It includes the creativity represented by Nicho's yellow pants, Charlotte's thoughtful planning inspired by la dolce vita, and Jer's 6 AM workouts.

There's also something I observed (Alicia speaking here) that gives me confidence in the strength of Uncut's foundation. Namely: we have a CEO who gets his hands dirty, quite literally, in the kitchen. Carlos cooked for us on more than one occasion while the rest of the team was heads-down working on new features and code. He's humble enough that I don't think this is something he'd brag about. But it reminded me of the famous Nordstrom triangle: the idea that the CEO is there to support the company from the very bottom by empowering others to make things work.

4. Greece is beautiful.

If you're looking for somewhere to do a company retreat, you could do worse than Kalamata. Also, did you know that pizza comes from Greece, as does pasta, and wine, and even Napoleon has Greek roots?

(We're all still smiling from the tour guide who taught us to see the Greek in everything! At the end of the day, I suppose we could say part of Uncut was born in Greece as well.)

5. In-person hackathons can supercharge a product.

Asynchronous work is great. The international flavor of our team is one of our undeniable strengths and it would be impossible to work so closely together all the time. But nothing quite beats sitting directly across from one another and racing toward a common goal — kind of like stepping onto a treadmill and trying to keep up with the guy next to you. Our new product direction came together much more quickly than it might have across different time zones.

6. If you play "Two Truths and a Lie," the lie may stick.

We learned something about our product designer that may never disappear from our company mythology. You'll have to ask him about it directly.

7. Retreats are an investment, but they don't have to break the bank.

We clearly place a high value on the importance of human connection. We're betting on the idea that this connection will be a net positive: that what we gain in productivity and company culture will offset the costs.

Still, it's easy to balk at the price of what can look from the outside like a vacation. If you're curious how much we spent on our retreat, we welcome you to take a look here.

Given the costs we save by not having an office — and how much more aligned we feel as a company afterward — it's well worth it.

So there you have it! When we began the retreat, we had three clear "why"s: understand one another better in person, work on a project together and align ourselves around the company mission. It was a lofty goal for six days (you can view our retreat schedule here), but we're proud to say "Mission Accomplished."

It's not a structure that would work for everyone, but it works for us.

Now the challenge is to keep that momentum going: to translate the humanity and intensity of this experience into our work going forward.

We can’t wait.