Our First Virtual Team Retreat

Megan Beck, The Unmentionables’ Co-founder and COO

April 15 to 21 is National Volunteer Week, and we’re celebrating the passion and talent of our volunteers! Last week, we brought our incredible team together for our first ever virtual retreat, where we took the time to get to know each other better and reflect on our accomplishments. Read our co-founder and COO Megan’s recap of the retreat below!

I can’t stop marveling at our remote team. We’re a year and a half old at the end of this month, and have over 60 people represented in our internal team – volunteers, interns, employees, educators, and advisors. Currently, we have representatives in 12 time zones. We come from over 20 countries, in terms of our citizenship, residency, and heritage identities. Last year, we recorded over 213,800 volunteer hours!

That said, most of our team will never get to meet each other face-to-face. We still don’t have an office – by intentional design, to minimize overhead and maximize a diverse team of professionals without geography in common. Most of us don’t share the same first language (over 12 languages represent our team today), dietary choices, home lifestyle, family structure, or religious beliefs. Each teammate creates their own office hours and days. Much of The Unmentionables’ crew are self-proclaimed introverts.

We have to anticipate misunderstanding and miscommunication, and build procedures to diminish systemic confusion and interpersonal barriers. We have to keep the why of what we do at the forefront of our external and internal dialogue. But that’s not enough.

Across our varied demographics, we all crave connection.

So how does a newer, not-for-profit entity that relies extensively on a voluntary team build community? How can a group of strangers, divided across departments but united in a common aim, strengthen our solidarity for each other and for the people we serve? We share coffee and tea together over virtual meetings, but that’s not much interaction. The privileges of physically bumping into a coworker at work or the grocery store, of waiting to use the office bathroom because it’s occupied by a colleague, or of judging the strength of a teammate’s cologne or perfume aren’t ours.

This month, we experimented with our first virtual team retreat. Teammates dialed in with their video cameras to a live internet platform to refresh and engage for a couple of hours. Personally, I was elated to finally hear everyone’s voices – this was the first time I’d even heard some teammate’s accents, even though they’ve been serving for months!

Using feedback provided over the last year, we addressed concerns and personal development requests from both field-based and remote teammates through a full-body approach: mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Mental

We started with a who’s-who chart, as roles change quickly to build our network. Just the week of the retreat, we had five people added or transitioned out from our team! Teammates were given an “ask me anything” opportunity, to present burning questions to top executives. An advisor conducted a quick refresher on our updated mission statement, values, vision, and Code of Conduct.

Emotional

Folks were asked to share a story about the origin of their name and bring a meaningful item to share. A live dog, machete, notebook, charm bracelet, postcard, and piece of a now non-existent refugee hotspot structure were among our treasured self-representations. At the end, each person shared one word as a takeaway about the work we do, which included: encouraging, education, excited, growth, and inspiring. After the retreat, each teammate was sent anonymous affirmations about their work, character, and impact.

Physical

One Director hosted an introduction to Krav Maga, a form of self-defense training originally developed by the Israeli military in the 1940s, to address concerns shared by young women. An Executive leader led a basic yoga flow, a practice developed over 5,000 years ago in Northern India, to encourage physical development and internal stillness.

We don’t have this figured out. A one-off retreat doesn’t keep relationships strong and morale high for long. What we do know is that we are bound together in mission, and that is the core of what makes us a team. We will continue the conversation and research of the budding remote-work company culture, with our unique slant of being an international non-profit organization. The Unmentionables is committed to providing dignity through hygiene to forcibly displaced communities, and providing dignity to our internal team for the powerful work they do.

Join the conversation or swap best practices about virtual team guidance by emailing us: info@theunmentionables.ca.

Want to become part of our incredible team? Discover how you can get involved with The Unmentionables by checking out our volunteer or internship opportunities.

Bianca Settino