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Our Epic Annual Remote Retreat: Colombia Edition

– By Art Assoiants

Our team at PH1 Research is remote by design. We’re spread all over Canada. 

But we all know the importance of spending time together. It’s about the memories, the ad hoc convos, and the humanness that can only be experienced in person. (And in person strategic planning sessions just hit different.)

Our goal: To get to know each other more closely, while also deeply aligning on our brand mission, vision, and values. 

So we decided to go to Colombia. We spent about two weeks in Medellin - a large city with ideal temperatures, incredible people, and lots of music and activities to keep us occupied.

Meeting Each Other as Humans

This was the first time some of us met together. Before that, it felt like we were floating Zoom torsos. Basically AI.

But spending time together meant we finally got to see each other for who we are. Our unique psychographics started to shine:

  • Did we like taking breaks from others or did we wanna be around people all the time?

  • Did we want to explore new things or get to know the familiar even better?

This all matters because people’s realness comes out in the unfamiliar. Colombia meant a new language, culture, environment. So we saw one another for real. 

There’s a sort of “performance” each of us can play in the virtual world that’s harder to hide in person. So by spending two close weeks together, we really got to appreciate each other as individuals.

This matters because now we’re closer friends. We can be more honest with one another. We’ve deepened our team’s psychological safety.

Articulating our Culture and Who We Are

We’ve all participated in and facilitated remote strategic workshops. They get the job done. But they’re just not the same as an ongoing in-person conversation. 

In between exploring the beautiful city of Medellin, eating superior bandeja paisas, and doing client work (obviously), we asked the hard questions:

  • Who are we and what are our values? 

  • How do we keep each other accountable to our freshly articulated culture?

  • How do we communicate what we are to our clients and the world?

And being together meant our conversations were ongoing. 

We all had time to think about what we’d created. Time to re-evaluate our insights. To go back and review. To bring up anecdotes as evidence. To then all pause - eat a wonderful meal, take in the sights, and jump right back into the conversation. 

It wasn’t strategizing for the sake of strategy. It was a well-paced introspective exercise where we all felt real, true, and vulnerable. 

At the end, we created a set of values, pillars of truth, and a direction forward

Having Pride in Our Work and People

The most important takeaway of our trip was a recommitment to one another and our practice. 

It’s easy to forget the bigger picture, even while adhering to remote work best practices and the hottest new HR culture trends.

We re-remembered why we do what we do and the impact it has not only on our clients, but their end users and us as practitioners. 

And this matters because we kicked butt! In no particular order, during our trip, we:

  • Won and delivered serious impact / results on a futures research project with Braintrust

  • Continued our wild NFT/ web3 projects with Dapper Labs

  • Won a project with Spotify

  • Won a project with Mozilla

  • Began working on service design research for one of the world’s most prestigious cancer hospitals: MD Anderson Cancer Centre

  • Designed and launched our new website

This recommitment to one another and our work continues to this day. 

While remote retreats for a remote team might not fit every culture, we know it’s right for us. We like spending time together in new places, having ongoing conversations about the hard stuff, and reconnecting with why we do what we do. And there’s no better way to do all that than to be together in inspiring places. 

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