Within a few months of the year, the Lattice Design team was almost 35 people with about 50% of those being new this year! We are a remote- first company with three office locations: San Francisco, New York, and London. The Design team is spread out with about 20 of us in the Bay area, another 5 in the New York area and the rest are remote. To be clear, most people work from home even if they live near an office. With the growth and all being spread out, we wanted to figure out how to get to know each other.
Our goal was to simply connect and spend quality time together. Turns out that connecting with other humans is essential to “work.” So instead of planning an event and then hoping to include everyone, we flipped the process on its head. We started by designing the event to include everyone and then planned our agenda around that.
How we went about it and what we learned
1. Have a clear goal and get buy-in
While some teams might get together to work on goal-oriented tasks like roadmapping, we were solely focused on building relationships for this event. We made sure we had buy-in from Design leadership and that we had a budget (Lattice allocates budgets for teams to get together periodically).
2. Form a Planning Committee
If you’re going to design a time for others, it’s important to have the planning come from those that are directly benefiting from this time together. We created a Planning Committee made up of about eight team members. We made sure there was a variety of folks to ensure different skillsets and perspectives were represented. There were two expectations to be on the committee:
- Active participant in planning sessions and async communications
- Lead at least one portion of the planning
3. Understand what people want
We need to proactively be inclusive of others. In our remote-first (and COVID) world it meant being mindful of in-person or remote, travel, introverts and extroverts, accessibility, closed captioning, etc. This does not make planning easier. It actually becomes more complicated, but perhaps it should be. We’re all different and have different needs. So the Planning Committee put together a preferences survey to understand what the team was wanting/needing.
We let people choose how they participated (gasp!)
Based on the survey we decided that any team member could participate how and where they wanted — remote, from our San Francisco office, or from our New York office. We let each person decide based on what they wanted and we planned our time together knowing our team would have different needs. Some examples of what we heard from the team:
- ”I need to balance COVID and time away from family with team bonding :)”
- ”Feel rusty socializing or being is groups.”
- ”Making sure that everyone can feel included and comfortable all at the same time.”
Caption: Our survey to gauge preferences.
4. Intentional planning
To plan a hybrid event centered around connection, we needed to be intentional about a few things.
- Balancing energy: All-day events or workshops can be are exhausting (especially in-person), another reason we aimed to only take up 3 hours max of session time.
- No travel on the weekends: As we didn’t want to eat into people’s weekends, we created buffer in the beginning and end of the work week for travel. This also allowed folks to ease into the week, especially if they did travel and were getting settled in.
- Balancing workload: We confined our all-team sessions to just 3 hours on Wednesday and Thursday. This allowed the team to still be able to engage with their cross-functional partners and move work forward that couldn’t be put on hold.
- Optional social gatherings: We wanted to balance connection with both work sessions and social gatherings. We made sure that social gatherings were optional. We communicated such, very early and often as it did create long days, while also making sure we created space for those that wanted to spend more time together. Since we let people choose to be in-person or not, we wanted that to be true for any social gatherings as well. We had in-person social gatherings in New York and San Francisco. We also had a remote social gathering. It was also totally fine to not attend at all.
- Remote-first mindset: We wanted to ensure there was equity across locations. So we thought about social gatherings for remote folks, having in-person folks join meetings from their laptops, sending care packages to remote folks, etc.
Here is an overview of what our week looked like.
Alright, here’s what we did
We didn’t know what to call it. Was it an off-site, an on-site? We wanted to have some fun and create excitement so we came up with a theme and some branding. What’s a Design Team event without our own theme, branding, swag, and puns!
The creation of our theme (Design Inn-site, get it?), the reveal to the rest of the team, and the physical representation of it brought so much joy and excitement to the whole event. It also helps to have Annie Dailey, an amazing Brand Designer, on the Planning Committee.
For us, by us
We spent the bulk of our team sessions learning about passions from others on the team. We launched a program called “Internal Design Skill Share” that debuted at the Design Inn-site. It was important to us to have a mix of work related topics with personal passions: speaking at a conference, mending clothes, brand moments in product, and water coloring. Since our team has grown, we wanted to foster connections and learn from one another. Giving team members a chance to share their own individual interests and expertise to help level up the entire team.
Here are the great sessions we had which then encouraged others to sign up for future sessions throughout the remainder of the year (and we now have six more planned).
Making an impact outside of Lattice
We’re intentional about building the Design team’s culture here. We also want to be intentional about our influence outside of Lattice, too. Cap Watkins, Design Director, shared tips on presenting at a conference. He touched on a few good reasons:
- It’s good for your career: Giving talks is a great way to find like-minded people and companies. Cap has gotten to meet and befriend some of his design heroes this way!
- It’s good for the community: Sharing the rad things you and your team do helps other teams and designers advocate for that at their workplace!
- It’s good for Lattice: Design candidates (and some non-design folks) comment that they became interested in the company after seeing a talk
- It’s fun!: Sometimes you get to travel and even get paid!
Creating space for brand moments in product
Lattice Design comprises both product/UX design and brand design. A lot of companies separate those two based on org structures. Brand and/or Creative design teams will often report up into Marketing and Product/UX design into Product. It is very intentional for our team to have both Brand and Product design teams “under one roof.” It still requires a lot of intentionality to collaborate well together. As a way to drive more and better collaboration, Annie Dailey, Brand Designer, and Meghan McGowan, Product Designer, gave a skill share on creating brand moments in our products.
Some of the highlights on why this is important to us:
- Brand consistency builds customer trust
- Crafted details (animation, interactions, delight) affect the user’s overall experience and perception of your product
- Benefits the business, customers, and the Design team
Our company’s mission is to help make work meaningful. Our product has many actions, steps, and milestones that each contribute toward that outcome in some way. By celebrating the meaningful ones, we remind the user of this and put a smile on their face while we’re at it.
Dedicated time to reflect on ourselves as individuals
Our People Partner, Sophie Hurcombe led a session to help us reflect on and share about key moments that have shaped our careers. On/off-sites can tend to be all about the group. We wanted to have some time where we as individuals could learn and grow as well. We can’t expect the larger team to connect if they are not connecting with themselves as well. We spent some time on a Career Lifeline exercise where each person marked highs and lows across their career. By doing this, we were able to:
- Reflect on our life and identify stories that shaped who they are
- Help see and interpret patterns in our lives
- Gather insights that can help influence future career choices
After some solo time to reflect on our career moments we then got into small groups to share with others. This helped us get to know other team members.
What we learned
Like any good team, we had folks fill out a feedback survey afterwards:
- Meeting and getting to know people
- Overwhelmingly we got great feedback about how the team felt like they got quality time with others which made us happy.
- People that were in-person chose to be in-person. Next time we want to lean into that more to make sure they are getting the most out of being with others without excluding those who were remote.
- It was nice to have flexibility on where to participate, but that made it harder to spend time with people in other locations. For next time, we thought about sharing photos more as a larger group or recaps of the day from each location.
Skill Share Sessions:
- We received positive feedback on the mix of sessions and plan to host more on a regular basis. After Inn-site, we got a lot more people to sign up for future skill shares.
Could do differently:
- We could have a ‘dry run’ to work out the challenges. The good ‘ol tech issues and timing challenges we had that would have been good to deal with in advance.
It’s easy to feel like you’re in a constant time crunch. Something we as a Planning Committee tried to remind ourselves was a shift in thinking about the days we’re planning to the moments we’re creating.