Our First Company Meet - April 2022
I started my career at a fully remote company and I had previously only met my colleagues for brief periods over lunch or dinner. The ongoing pandemic further limited the in-person meetups. This meant very little opportunity to discuss, work, and collaborate as a team.
Just 40 days into my new role at Argonaut, I got the opportunity to meet my colleagues & work with them in person. Argonaut’s workcation week 10th - 17th April 2022, with the team at Goa, was an eventful experience with a range of emotions, fun memories, and important work discussions.
Argonaut Team Picture as of Apr 2022
How did Entanglement come about?
Argonaut, like the other companies & organizations I’ve worked for so far, is a fully remote company. Its founder & CEO is from the San Francisco Bay Area and the rest of the employees are in India. With Argonaut finishing its first phase of hiring, it was the right time to have an event bringing the whole team together.
The name Entanglement was apt. The quantum state of each particle of the group of entangled particles cannot be described independently of the state of the others, including when the particles are separated by a large distance, analogous to the Argonaut team.
Entanglement 2022 was thus established. There is an undeniable bond and camaraderie that gets established because of proximity. And the purpose of this gathering was to get all employees on the same page about company matters, understand each other’s work style, and build lasting trust/bonds that expand beyond the horizon of work we do.
What happened during the week? What new individual relations formed? How important are physical meetings for fully remote teams? The rest of this article seeks to answer these questions through my personal experience.
Moving from eMeets to Meets
While it wasn’t the first time I spoke with them, it was the first time I met them in person. Moving from physical to virtual is something I have done in the past, but this was a unique experience for me. There’s this sense of excitement leading up to every first meeting with an individual and also several thoughts running in the back of my mind about how that meeting might pan out.
In reality, these first meetings went by way smoother. I quickly realized that having no screen or microphone between two parties removed a lot of the hesitation and allowed for more natural conversations to flow. This change was evident for all of us, as we quickly eased into the moment and opened up to one another. Furthermore, the young and diverse group of folks on our team brought back memories from my college days and my time volunteering at various youth organizations.
Virtually vs Actually Knowing a Person
Though Slack, Zoom, and Google Meets have made our remote work experience much smoother, the human connection developed is limited. Some reasons for this could be:
- Written messages lack context, tone, emotion, etc.
- We mostly stay within time limits set for meetings as a respect for the other person’s time. And sometimes we even end the call early and give the other person back their time.
- Meetings typically are accompanied by an agenda, which makes them very transactional.
- There is lower involvement of non-verbal cues in virtual meetings.
Thus, the time spent face to face helped establish valuable connections that are still very hard to achieve through other means. It was a very refreshing change for me and the others after being at home for many months due to the pandemic. The current team at Argonaut consists of folks from all parts of India with each of us representing a different home state. This brought further richness to our conversations and also helped me improve my Hindi, which I hadn’t used since my high school days.
The Coffee Shop Chatter
On our third day, we discovered a local family-owned coffee shop right next to our accommodation. And we frequented it throughout the rest of our time there. The coffee was amazing, great hospitality from the local host, wonderful homemade muffins, a calm ambiance, and a fluffy dog. After a mugful of caffeine to start the day, we often headed straight for breakfast.
The Coffee Shop Chatter
The Team Breakfast Experience
Each morning, we gathered around the breakfast table, served ourselves food from the impressive buffet at the hotel, and discussed matters outside of work. More than the talking, our functioning as a team was visible here. Since the food area was generally crowded, we had to hold the spot for our teammates. Sometimes, we had to share our cutlery, other times, share recommendations on which food was appetizing and which to avoid. Each day we also learned a new thing about the countless unique adventures our CEO had undertaken, from adventure sports to exotic travels. That gave me many things to add to my bucket list.
Argonauts bonding over food & ice cream
Moving from a virtual to a physical work environment didn’t change much for us as a team. Our company vibe was still relaxed and the week’s attire was still T-shirt and shorts, which definitely was right for summer in Goa. Setting up a work environment in a hotel wasn’t so straightforward. Working from the comfort of the hotel room, was also different from what an actual office space would feel like. We connected two adjacent rooms and the rooms quickly got their own designated areas - the bed became a meeting place, the couch became a discussion/work for some, the windowpane became a sun + view spot, and the refrigerator acted as a defacto watercooler and snack bar.
With two new members joining the team, there were several onboarding discussions about the product. Nischal, our UI/UX designer used this opportunity to get to know what kinds of bottlenecks new users would face during onboarding and immediately got to work on resolving them. The new team members also brought in a ton of fresh perspectives and questions about the product itself, which further deepened my understanding of the product.
The future of the company was another thing that was discussed on several occasions. As the first 10 employees of the company, the onus is upon us as each one’s contribution greatly impacts the growth trajectory of the company. Sharing each of our views on the product, understanding the requests of our existing customers, and prioritizing the new features were part of our company's future discussion. These discussions with the team brought a sense of togetherness and strive toward a common goal.
We Are the Argonauts
The Argonauts in Greek mythology were a band of heroes with mighty powers that accompanied Jason to Colchis on his quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. At Argonaut, we believe each individual comes with his/her superpower and has the potential to help the company navigate rough waters and achieve its ultimate goal.
Working at an early-stage startup fits me well for multiple reasons. Firstly, the other employees are treated more as a family than as co-workers. Secondly, with a limited number of people, there is no room for cliques. Our drive towards the company’s goals and its values moves every conversation and decision. Finally, working together in one room reminded me of several other tech giants that started in a single dorm room/garage. The environment we experienced echoed much of the same early-stage toil.
On day 3, we all wore our Argonaut Tees and got a team picture. This was the first time in years that I’ve had to opportunity to be part of a team picture with folks representing a brand. This further instilled a sense of family within me.
Argonaut team in 360°
Being inclusive of all your members is important in any team. This meant having hybrid meetings with the two members who weren’t able to join the event in person. We were able to have regular catch-ups to make sure they were up to speed on any developments. My first town hall meeting at Argonaut happened in a hybrid setting.
And as for those who were in the same room, we all had to figure out whose mics & speakers would be on for each meeting. Every time we saw the face of the person sitting next to us on the screen, we had a bit of a giggle. This was new to us and was an amazing experience nonetheless.
Adventures Outside Work
If you opened this article just to read this section, then great! You finally made it. Here are some fun activities we did as a team outside of our work hours and settings. We wanted to make the most out of our Goa visit as for many of us, it was our first time visiting Goa.
Team Adventures Outside work
A day spent at the beach is a day well spent. Our workcation week also happened to be closer to the long weekend, which gave us a good chance to connect outside work. On Friday, we headed out to enjoy some water sports. The drive to the location, the day at the beach, in the water, away from our phones, and the sheer thrill of these activities were all great bonding moments for the entire team.
Mealtime with colleagues is something that can’t quite be replicated virtually. Most of our lunches and dinners were at unique restaurants around our accommodation. The appetizing flavors and cozy ambiance allowed us to make easy conversations over meals. Restaurants we visited were of all kinds, some featuring live music, some seaside shacks, burger joints, and some family-owned restaurants.
Game Room & More
We also engaged in several other activities like VR games, table tennis, pool table, darts, cards, gymming, and swimming pool, all of which provided a great refreshment to our minds. We also discussed other thought-provoking topics such as the EU law on messaging apps, cloud industry players, and more.
Until the Next Entanglement
It’s been just 2 weeks since our in-person workweek (Entanglement) and I can already see a major change in the way we work together as a team. Each meeting has at least one reference to our time back in Goa. We chat more frequently and join impromptu huddles. There’s also more connection between us outside of our work. Virtual game nights, Instagram stories, and more to come.
The in-person workweek has been one of the most significant career events for me so far and the benefits of this are something I will carry with me for a long time. Until the next Entanglement 20xx.
Guhan Sundar, April 2022