December starts as usually and it’s here again. Many months of inclement weather ahead of us, with morning frost outside the window that turns into a slush in just a matter of hours. The sun, if it happens to appear, is just an aesthetic addition to the sky, with no sign of any thermal value. We are in for many months of cold and feeling blue. Or are we? What if we aren’t?
Jokes aside, time to get serious. A few smart minds got together and said enough. And it’s no coincidence that those few smart minds have gathered at Ströer labs.
Let’s make our people’s winter shorter! An idea that sounded foolish at first turned out to be feasible eventually. Let’s rent villas in some winterless destination. Villas where our employees can go to work in some nicer and warmer environment and shorten the ratio of winter in their lives.
The more we thought about this bold idea, the more benefits and advantages began to reveal themselves. Not only will our employees stay warm, but they will have the opportunity for team building in the backdrop of a holiday destination. Teammates who don’t normally have the opportunity to physically meet and collaborate can do just that. We will bring in colleagues from Germany, and can also invite fellow workers from as far away as New Zealand if they are interested. A great way to deepen relationships and opportunities for people from different parts of the world to work together.
Another benefit fell into the category of external HR marketing. Finding new colleagues – developers, is usually a quite difficult task. It can be a considerable advantage if you are able to differentiate yourself from your competitors in the endless crowd of companies. And in retrospect, I can say that the majority of the population really had their eyes popping out of their head when I told them about how we have luxury spring and autumn villas by the sea available for our employees. There may be a certain amount of ostentatiousness in that, but that’s just how marketing works and important goal was fulfilled in a sense that we were really perfectly differentiated from other companies in our region.
Everything is perfect
There is no need to go into too much detail on the organization of the villas renting. Getting villas is actually not such a problem if you have the money. Which we had. At the end of winter (March 2018) we occupied 2 adjacent villas in the Portuguese Algarve, surrounded by orange, tangerine and lemon orchards. It’s hard to imagine a better and more peaceful place than the Portuguese countryside. Then in October 2018 we occupied a villa in the Balearic Islands, specifically Ibiza. As we were only there in the autumn after the club season, we literally had the whole island to ourselves, and therefore an awesome opportunity to experience Ibiza without the tourists.
Meeting in person and spending time together with colleagues from Germany or New Zealand had certainly improved and deepened further cooperation. Personal relationships are priceless in this context. All of our employees took away many fond memories of the weeks spent together in an environment where they could be pleasantly detached from the worries of everyday life.
Not everything is perfect
It wouldn’t be us if we didn’t also look back on the complications that had met us along the way. They are important life and organizational lessons, essential for future development.
If you have a villa by the sea, say with seven bedrooms, for 6 weeks, be prepared for some dates to be more in demand than others. Which will logically lead to situations where some weeks the villa is literally half empty and other weeks there is a “downheartedness” to some, because the capacity is not able to cater for all those interested in staying. I guess all beings cannot be happy at the same time.
Do you think that people won’t cancel an event like this a day or two in advance? Well, you’re mistaken. When concerned person doesn’t even care to explain the situation makes it particularly bitter pill to swallow. Whether someone hamster got sick or the person forgot to buy the air ticket – we don’t know until this day. These situations could probably have been avoided by defining stricter rules.
Seaside villas, like other types of non-monetary benefits, are simply not for everyone. That’s okay, we already know that not all beings can be happy at the same time. You can count on the fact that you will probably be reminded in the future, “Oh yeah, they were by the sea. I couldn’t. What do we get, we who weren’t at the sea?”
As another minor mischief, we might perceive that people naturally tend to be friendly to their friends. In other words, you’ll find that people sort of naturally, even in the villa, hang out mostly with the same people they normally hang out with in the office. And only in hindsight do they regret that they didn’t talk more with those colleagues from Germany whom they didn’t know much before. This situation can probably be solved by preparing a monster welcome party on the first day. This gives all the tour participants the opportunity to get to meet each other in the right way at the beginning of their common stay.
And finally, there are the hygiene habits that everyone seems to have mastered in a slightly different way. If these habits are really very different from one person to the next, there is a risk that some sort of orderly consensus will have to come about the hard way.
How about next time?
In the meantime, there was Covid, the bloody war in Ukraine, double-digit inflation – phenomena that do not favor such events. In a few months it will be 5 years since we sunbathed in Portugal. Despite all this, we still haven’t given up on villas. The company wants to continue to support this teambuilding format. Only the organization will be different. We want to leave it up to the teams to choose where and how they meet within a budget. Ideally, it should be a place where none of the participants will be at home. Anyway, entire organization of accommodation, travel, and especially the dates will be the responsibility of the individual groups. The company will just make a financial contribution and will not have to mourn unused accommodation capacities at the villa.
Although the original idea of escaping the harsh winter has somehow faded from this project over time, what has remained is the realization that this is perhaps the best form of teambuilding – a way to get to know each other better and contribute to effective collaboration. And that is just what you want as a company.
EDIT: Supposedly the buzz word in corporates nowadays is the synergy, which should not be absent from any serious HR text. So yes, villas promote synergy. It’s so.