I wrote the following post last year when I was tagging along on Buffer’s Remote Retreat in Madrid, Spain with my sister. It was an amazing experience getting to see another remote company so up close. Enjoy!
It is completely insane to me, that I’m writing this while sitting in Madrid, Spain tagging along on Buffer’s company retreat for a week because my sister now works at this amazing remote company. Buffer is a company that I have always had so much respect for. If you haven’t heard of them yet, they’re a social media scheduling platform and I’ve used them for years to schedule my Twitter & Facebook posts. What really sets them apart though is their values and the way they approach their product.
Thank you Buffer!
First off, I wanted to give a HUGE thank you to Buffer, their leadership and The People team for including the loved ones of Buffer employees in their retreats. I particularly wanted to point out how inclusive it was that I was included as well since I’m not a spouse of a Buffer employee, but rather a family member/sibling. I spent my entire week feeling so welcome by everyone and felt like I was a part of the Buffer family, it was amazing.
My sister and I do a fair amount of traveling. It’s really rare that we travel without each other because as a young female in another country or even just traveling to a new city in general, it does make both of us feel a lot safer having a traveling companion. Since we both work remotely and can travel, we tend to be each other’s go-to travel companion.
So it was really awesome that Buffer made room for me to stay in the same hotel room as my sister, and to include the other loved ones of Buffer employees. I’m sure it was an extra expense, but it was super inclusive and I think speaks volumes about the kind of company they are.
This isn’t my first remote company retreat…
I work for one of the largest remote companies, Automattic. I’ve attended Automattic’s Grand Meetups (which I wrote about here) and going into this week I was curious how another remote company would handle their retreat/meetup. I wondered how similar it would be, but also what the differences would be as well.
How I ended up in Spain on the Buffer Retreat
Soon after I joined Automattic as a Happiness Engineer, my sister also decided she wanted to work for a remote company and applied to Buffer as a Happiness Hero. I couldn’t have been happier for her when she got the position. (And as a side note, it’s amazing to have someone else around who works remotely in customer support, since they tend to get all of the idiosyncrasies of my job and life).
She’s been at Buffer for a year and a half now, and this was her first company retreat and first time meeting her co-workers in person.
I’m such a big fan of Buffer. I personally started using Buffer way back in 2012. Back then, I still wanted to be a social media manager. It was right before I had discovered that my favorite part of my job was actually updating people’s websites and not updating their social media accounts and thus set me on my journey to WordPress and now Automattic.
Going into this week, I am SO excited.
How do these remote retreats work?
The entire company works remotely for most weeks out of the year, but then for one week out of the year, all employees are flown to one location where they meet up and work together in person.
In so many ways, it’s such an eye-opener to have coworkers that you work with on a daily basis that literally live all over the world. Culturally, it makes a company so diverse and makes the product diverse as well.
The downside is that you have amazing coworkers that you never see.
Which is why time together in person is so valuable. It allows for you to get to know many people all at once. It’s also a great opportunity to get everyone together to learn and plan for the upcoming year.
One of the most common questions I get asked is if it’s like an all company vacation. In my experience, it’s the opposite. That one week you’re all together is one of the more intense (in a great way) work weeks out of the year. Simply because you work all day and spend as much time as possible with your coworkers into the late evening, learning from them and planning for the upcoming weeks and months ahead. While you may be in a super cool location, it’s hard to notice the majority of the time when you’re hard at work.
Going into this week, I was curious to see how similar Buffer’s retreat would be compared to Automattic’s Grand Meet up, but also how different it would be as well.
What it like being at another company’s retreat?
We arrived a day early to the beautiful city of Madrid, Spain. We were quite jet lagged from the time difference. We got our luggage, found a taxi, and we made it to our hotel. Upon arriving we immediately ran into some of my sister’s coworkers in the hotel lobby and it was a nice round of hugs and chatting! Everyone felt like instant friends! One of the big things that struck me immediately is that Buffer is very much a small tight-knit family. They also really go out of their way to include loved ones and family members.
We did a quick SIM card run with a few Bufferoos (employees of Buffer) and then I headed back to to the hotel to take a nap. I woke up for a few hours and did some sightseeing, but was mostly just too exhausted to function. My first day ended up being spent resting up.
The next evening when everyone else arrived, there was a Welcome Dinner, up on the rooftop of the hotel. With 75 Bufferoos in the room together, it was a warm buzz of smiles and many many hugs.
It reminded me a lot of my first Welcome Party at The Grand Meetup. There was just this electric energy to the room, which almost felt like a warm family reunion rather than a company gathering. Something I found particularly cool was getting to also meet the accompanying family members or loved ones of Buffer employee’s, fondly called Bufferees. Typically at Automattic Meetups, it’s rare to see a family member of an Automattician all week long. I talked to as many people as my little introvert self could manage. I was fascinated by everyone and did my best to remember as many names as possible (which is something I always struggle with).
For me, the main difference was at my first Grand Meetup while I remember being overwhelmed, I was used to seeing everyone’s avatars on a daily basis. So I already knew who they were and generally knew a few things about them. So at my own company retreat remembering names wasn’t really a problem. That and all Automatticians wear a badge w/ their name on it.
It was a really weird feeling to be on the other side of a Meetup. Here at Buffer’s retreat, I had no avatars to go off of, some names sounded vaguely familiar but in general, I had a really hard time keeping up with who was who.
While I’m having a hard time remembering names, it’s amazing to see the magic of remote retreats happen all around me. Seeing people who have worked together for months on a daily basis, finally meet each other in person for the first time. Running up to one another with warm hugs and “nice to FINALLY meet you”, it was so sweet ❤ .
The differences between Automattic’s Grand Meetup and Buffer’s Retreat
It’s really hard to compare both of the companies and I honestly think the main differences I noticed had to do with the sizes of the company, a company retreat for 500+ people will just naturally go a lot differently than one with 75 people.
Automattic had a bit more Townhalls or late night AMA’s. Buffer seemed to have more focused presentations.
At Automattic’s Grand Meetup you’re assigned to a specific restaurant for lunch & dinner to a specific and table with Automattician’s that you haven’t had the chance of meeting yet, Buffer is at that perfect company size where you can meet everyone in the company, so meals don’t need to be assigned.
I loved how Buffer also gave several presentations at Google Campus, that members of the public could attend. It was super cool to see the excitement of the community to get a chance to learn from Buffer. I was only able to sit in a few presentations, but it was a huge testament to remote working. I genuinely hope that one-day remote working will be the norm. I loved how fascinated the community was by the idea of remote work. I personally haven’t seen Automattic do something like this, I hope one day we do.
Buffer’s retreat was very family- friendly in that all of the Bufferees (family and loved one’s of Buffer employees) got together. On one of the first days, there was a Bufferee meeting in the morning where you got to meet all of the other spouses and family members, and they kinda go over the schedule for the week and what to expect. It was a great opportunity for loved ones who hadn’t been to a retreat before to learn a bit about what to expect but also to make some friends to go site seeing with.
Sadly I was already scheduled to work my normal job all day, so I didn’t get to go on any adventures with the amazing Bufferee’s, but I thought it was amazing how they banded together every day to go site seeing and generally just to learn and support each other. My main regret is that I didn’t get to spend more time with them.
They did schedule a dinner out, where all of the Bufferee’s went to dinner together. That was a blast and I loved getting to know them better!
A whole new perspective
Going into this week, I knew to expect to see very little of my sister.
The most interesting part of the entire experience for me was that it was SO weird to be the one not on a company meetup, but to be the family member of someone on meetup. Which is how I realized that there are two totally different perspectives to this remote meetups & retreats.
Perspective 1: The person on a remote meetup/retreat.
When you’re on a retreat/ meet up you’re just completely emerged into the world of your company. Its hard work and long days. It’s a super important time and one that you tend to think back on fondly for the rest of the year.
To a complete outsider, it may look or sound like you’re just hanging out with friends or partying with your coworkers. It genuinely is so different from that. You’re learning about your teammates. What is their life like back home? What foods do they dislike? What challenges are they facing? What tricks have they figured out to be more efficient at their job? What are they most passionate about? All of these details just come pouring out and you spend most of your waking hours trying to catch as many of these details as you can.
All of those moments that a 9am – 5pm office employee has around the water cooler all year, are all condensed into this one intense week. So long days of working is the norm. Getting up at 8am and working until 8pm, then grabbing dinner or drinks until 11pm. Just talking all day. Then after dinner or drinks, just getting to be in the same room as all of your colleagues.
Perspective 2: The family member of someone on a remote meetup/retreat
The thing that surprised me the most about how retreats/ meetups work, is that even though I went into the week knowing I’d see little of my sister, it was surprisingly lonely.
While before I could sympathize with it being tough that a family member or loved one is gone at a remote retreat, I never truly understood until I was a family member and found myself waiting around for a text message or any little update. Now I completely empathize. It can be really tough just because you’re used to having your family member/loved one around.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing my sister jump in with her teammates but I also totally missed my usual travel companion when she was at work all day.
So keeping myself super busy was key! 🙂
Something that made all the difference in the world was my fellow Bufferees (family members and loved ones of Buffer employees). These were people who were going through the same experience that I was and it was so refreshing to bond over that with some amazing people!
So if you have a family member going on a Remote Retreat/ Meetup my main suggestion would be to keep yourself super busy! 🙂
I did just that and ended up having the best week during Buffer’s retreat. I spent most of my days working in live chat from Google Campus, Madrid (which was an amazing campus, I loved it!) or Cafe’s. Then in the evenings, I’d do some sightseeing on my way back to the hotel, grab a quick dinner before heading in for the night.
I walked away from this week even more convinced that I always want to work remotely. Remote companies truly attract some of the best people, who are just so talented and amazing at what they do.
Meetups and Retreats like this are a really magical time and I’m so thankful to have a new perspective on it! Thanks again Buffer for letting me tag along! ❤
Also, Madrid is just gorgeous!!