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Come together now: how to plan an inclusive team meetup
Annual team meetups are how we get to know each other in real life, have fun, work together, and share ideas. Get an inside look at what it takes to plan and execute a four-day meetup for 200+ people.
Last updated18 Aug 2022
Melissa Mauk, Director of Business Operations, has been part of the Hotjar team since October 2016. With six company-wide team meetups under her belt (now seven), there was no better person to lead the planning for our first in-person meetup in two-and-half years.
During a scorching hot week in June, Hotjar's annual team meetup for 2022, took place at the spacious and tranquil Campus La Mola, just outside Barcelona, Spain. A welcome reprieve after more than two years behind screens during the pandemic.
From preparation to execution, Melissa and the organizing committee:
Navigated the Covid health and safety requirements to bring people from 43 countries together
Ensured more than 200 people felt included, safe, and supported over four days
Kept everyone relaxed, well fed, entertained, and hydrated
So how did it all unfold?
I sat down with Melissa to learn more about the ins and outs of planning an annual team meetup—one that’s not only successful, but also leaves your team feeling included and connected to your colleagues and your company.
Planning a team meetup soon? Head to the end of the page for 10 tips that will help you plan and deliver an inclusive in-person meetup that your team members will be talking about for months to come.
Nicole Gottselig: you were the first person I saw when I arrived at Campus La Mola—and like several others on the bus with me, it was the first time we were meeting you in real life.
As we went to the table to get our Covid tests done, 15 minutes felt like 60 as we waited by the water stand for our results. Once we were given the all-clear, everyone’s mask came off (including yours), and you hugged us all with such warmth and kindness.
It immediately set the tone for what would unfold over the next four days. I, like many others, had some nervousness and fear of being in such a large group of people after more than two years of limited social interaction. So thank you.
Melissa Mauk: you're welcome. I think Jamie welcomed most people. I think I happened to be working my welcome desk shift when you arrived.
NG: how many company-wide meetups at Hotjar have you attended?
MM: seven, including our most recent one in June 2022.
NG: how many have you planned for Hotjar?
MM: I helped a little bit with the first two, mostly involved in things like transportation. For the third one, I took over kind of part way through. By our fourth meetup, I became the main person responsible.
NG: when was the last time everyone met in person and how many attended?
MM: our last company-wide meetup was held in Portugal in December 2019—with 80 people in total.
NG: then the pandemic was announced in March 2020.
MM: we were about two days away from signing the contract for one in June 2020.
NG: fast forward to June 2002. Hotjar hosted its first company-wide team meetup after two-and-a-half years.Many people found the event so inclusive, despite so many people—how did you make this happen?
MM: I have six previous meetup experiences that we drew from. For example, something we've really struggled with in the past was having enough vegetarian and vegan food. So we were able to plan that ahead of time.
We also knew that many people felt like there weren’t enough breaks—so we scheduled more this time. In the past, we've also done a lot of evening events. So you might have a dinner event or something after dinner. This time around, we scratched all of that to give everybody more free time.
Also, this time around, we had more people on the planning team with different perspectives and different experiences who helped us see new ways of doing and trying new things.
NG: how many people were part of your core planning team?
MM: 10 in total—eight from our Business Operations team and two from Marketing.
NG: when did you start planning the event?
MM: we started looking for locations in August 2021. You have to have the location signed before you can start to plan anything. So for the size, we knew we needed to start probably nine months ahead of time.
For this event, we worked with a company called NextRetreat. They have their own proprietary software where we send them everybody's preferred departure airport, and then they send us back a list of options. For example, if you fly into Paris, there are this many indirect flights, this many direct flights, this many flights with like two stops kind of thing.
NG: how did you decide on the right venue?
MM: NextRetreat gave us a list of cities to start with based on flight paths and our needs, such as how much space, areas to do sports. We stay away from cities because we’ve found that if you're in a city, then you lose people to bars and clubs. After all that, we received a list of options, which we narrowed to three. After visiting them all, we chose Campus La Mola near Barcelona.
NG: what new things did you have to consider with this meetup because of the global pandemic?
MM: how much testing and when we would test, and what would we do if somebody got sick. We have a Miro board of like a million different scenarios and what would happen. We also added color-coded name tags with options such as: I’m ok with hugs or handshakes; Good with fist pumps; or need space. And I think that would've been useful no matter what, but with Covid, I think it was much more important that we had those options for people.
NG: what do you think is the most important skill to have as an event planner?
MM: the ability to step out of your preferences. So when we're looking at menus or recreational options and things like that, it's not about what I or somebody else on the planning team wants. It really doesn’t matter if I like everything on the menu. I actually don't like paella at all, but you have to be able to say it doesn't really matter what my specific preference is and focus on what's gonna make the rest of the team happy and satisfied.
NG: what event software and tools do you like using? And why do you use them? MM: in Business Operations, we just switched to Asana in March. So we mostly use Asana and Miro for the event planning and then a really complicated Excel or sheet like Google sheets for other information, such as transportation.
NG: what makes an event successful and how do you measure that success?
MM: for all Hotjar meetups, we do a net promoter score (NPS). The NPS tells us kind of where it falls within the range of all previous meetups now vs. relying on our hunches or assumptions. We also set goals, which we’ve outlined in a learning document. Here, we also note what didn't go well, what went well, and what to plan for next time.
For example, this time we included things that were out of our control, like a historic heat wave. We did have a togetherness walk planned but had to cancel that as it was just too hot, and we knew there was just no way that it would work.
NG: How do you stay motivated when things go wrong?
MM: I think adjusting as well as we can, and then kind of minimizing issues as they come up. For example, on the first day, one of the pieces of equipment that routed the sound to Zoom just failed about five minutes before we were supposed to start that morning.
We had a quick discussion about whether we could get it working. We made the choice to prioritize the people in-house and would let the viewers online know that we’d send a recording. Plus, team support. Everybody's willing to support or pick up whatever needs to happen.
NG: what did you do as a team once the event was over?
MM: on the following Monday, we had a quick retro that we did async. Later in the week, we realized that the retro was just focused on the things we could do better. So we had another call that was about your favorite memory to bring everybody back around. Plus, we gave everybody on the organizing committee an extra day off in the next month.
NG: what’s your highlight moment of the event?
MM: when Wadzi (one of our team members who was leading the organizing committee) was acknowledged in a group chant. At past events, I’d been doing a lot of the hands-on stuff—which Wadzi took on this time.
She worked really, really hard, and she kept a lot of things kind of up in the air all at once. And every time one of us was like, have you thought of this? Or did we do that? It was almost always, yes, from Wadzi. So seeing her get that appreciation from everybody else in the group chant, was my favorite moment.
NG: what would you do again at the next meetup?
MM: have the planning committee come to the venue a day or two before. Doing this gave us the time to not only prepare but also to settle in before the whole rush arrived.
Also, having an event website. This was the first year we had one, and it was a huge help for us to have everything in one place to direct everyone to. We still used Slack and Discourse, but the website was a reliable source of the most important information.
And, finding a similar space for that kind of campus feel, but also for 400 people or whatever it's gonna be next time.
NG: what would you do differently next time?
MM: I think next time, we should think a little bit more about how we can make the sessions more focused on what you can do in person versus virtual.
Takeaway: 10 tips for a successful annual team meetup
Planning your next team meetup? Keep these 10 tips in mind:
Secure your venue first before you start planning
Ensure there’s plenty of diversity on your planning team, so you’ll see blind spots
Start planning about nine months ahead of time for large groups (200 or more)
Consider an outside company to help you source options for locations
Swap a city meetup for something off the beaten path for a retreat feel
Schedule plenty of break times to counteract overwhelm
Skip the after-dinner events in favor of free time
Plan for multiple worst scenarios, so you have plenty of solutions in place
Ensure the organizing committee has downtime and setup time at the venue before guests arrive
Set up an event website for a single source of truth
A big thank you to Melissa and the entire organizing committee for a memorable event that made us all feel welcome and included. We’re already counting down for the next one!
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