A few weeks ago Anna and I took the FireCask team to a small village in the heart of Tuscany, to work remotely as a group. We’ve never done this before and what originally started off as an experiment, turned out to be a brilliant trip for the whole team. Now we’re back in the office suffering from a small bout of holiday blues, I thought I’d share my reflections on the trip, for any readers who may be considering a work trip away for their team.
Why Did We Do It?
There’s a couple of concepts we’ve noticed startups implementing that often greatly benefit their team. We’re seeing an increase in the number of startups shunning the traditional physical office and becoming completely remote when it comes to the day-to-day operations of their venture.
Coupled with the traditional concept of a Christmas Do taking place towards the end of the year offering the team a chance to get together, bond and let their hair down before the Christmas break begins.
What we wanted to do was merge these two concepts by having the whole team work from a different location than the office in central Manchester.
Why did we choose Italy for a working location?
In October 2014, Anna and I purchased an apartment in a small village called Bagni di Lucca. Located in the heart of Tuscany, the village has a handful of restaurants and bars, yet it is so remote in terms of amenities.
This beautifully quaint and peaceful area wasn’t just a place to have a holiday, but also a place to work, away from the normality of life in the UK. In Bagni di Lucca, life is slower and much more relaxed. There isn’t a startup scene or any fancy metropolitan bars – just the bare essentials one needs to have a more relaxing way of life. Because of this, we’ve found over time that our work done out there was just as good, whilst our way of life improved. We found that even within a “more relaxed” environment, we still managed high outputs of work.
From this, we wanted to see if this would be the same if the whole team worked there too. So how exactly did we go about it?
Organising the week as a whole is key to ensuring everything runs smoothly. No event manager is needed when Anna is organising. Other than the usual travel and accommodation arrangements, our main focus was to ensure we had a few locations to work from and enough places to eat without shutting down work for too long.
We hoped to work from a different place each day, be it within hotels, restaurants, the local bar and our own apartment.
The apartment just about fit all 12 of us in. Split between the living room and the balcony, the set up felt natural and allowed us all to be working together in the same way we do, day to day.
We also worked from one of the amazing restaurants of the village, Ristorante Circolo dei Forestieri, where we worked outside in the courtyard before using the restaurant itself to eat our lunch.
Aims and Benefits
Waking up Happier
Even though we were in a holiday setting, work was still at the forefront of our minds – even first thing in the morning. Maybe it was down to the great coffee, the fresh air or the morning view which overlooked the Lima river and one of the first casinos to open in Europe.
A photo posted by Rhys Wynne (@rhysieboy84) on
As well as the fact that we were working in a lovely part of the world, it felt surprisingly beneficial to spend such a long time together, away from hustle and bustle of everyday life in Manchester. Being together practically 24/7 for 5 days should have been draining, but it was actually refreshing. We’d be able to work the whole day, followed by a short rest, before meeting up to go out together at night.
We’d eat fantastic food, drink well and stay up late but we were all ready to rock again in the morning.
Different Mindset & Improved Productivity
Working in a different location brings different thoughts. Sometimes running a company is best evaluated from afar, and positive change comes from somewhere other than the confines of the office.
Because we were working in more improvised situations in a completely different location, the team’s productivity was not only on the same level but came with a different mindset which brought different elements of creativity. We might have adopted the longer mediterranean lunch style but we still had the same high level of productivity. We were able to take longer lunches and use that time spent away from our usual desks which really helped keep productivity higher than usual in the afternoon.
Comparing with Other Investments
I remember the days when I would have to justify a few hundred pounds to my line managers, in order to do certain things that would benefit the company as a whole. Hosting a party or networking event at the office, speaking or exhibiting at a conference and entering an awards ceremony are just a few ways to improve business prospects. Yet while there were obvious ROIs in these cases, taking the team away would provide a different kind of return on investment. Let’s use a few examples with average figures:
Hosting a Party at your Office
- Food = £240
- Drink = £150
- Making staff network with prospects in exchange for 2 or 3 drinks = £0
Total price = £390
1 Person Attending/Speaking at a Conference
- Ticket price = £250
- Travel = £150
- 1 room for the night = £90
- Other meals and expenses = £150
Total price = £600
Entering an Awards Ceremony with 3 attendees
- Entering 2 categories = £160
- Tickets = £300
- Travel = £180
- 2 rooms for the night = £240
- Other meals and expenses = £120
Total price = £860
Exhibiting at a Conference for 2 days with 3 attendees
- Exhibition stand = £4,000
- Supplies for exhibition = £400
- Travel = £300
- 2 rooms for 2 nights = £500
- Other meals and expenses = £500
Total price = £5,700
The above costs can add up over a year. Let’s say for example that you attend 3 conferences, 1 award ceremony and exhibit once within a 12 month period you will have to invest £7,160. This doesn’t even cover any additional remedial expenses, as well as the fact that during this time, you and your team members will be out of the office which is even more costly to the company. Adding another £1,500 or so is a good estimate to this.
With the above information, your company may have invested around £8,660 which needs to be returned. Out of the 3 examples above, exhibiting at a conference takes over 50% of the total investment but is the most likely to see a return and will most probably happen with the quickest turnaround. Attending/speaking at conferences and entering award ceremonies is a smaller investment but the ROI is not as clear to prove, and can take a long time to see a return. As an example, I still hear from old contacts who saw me speak over a year ago and only now have started a dialog with me about services we offer.
Cost & Conclusion
Whilst the investments above are still sound, they all had a more direct element to returning that investment via new business. The investment we chose has no real direct return on investment that one can calculate by saying, “this trip won us that work”.
Instead, investing in the team trip to Italy meant that we invested in our people, through improving work ethic, team building and happiness. As a self-funded startup, every major investment requires consideration that can affect the workings of the agency itself. It sounds really “startup-y”, but investing in happiness is just as important as buying the equipment to carry out a job. But how much did all this cost? Was the investment worth it?
Below is a breakdown of costs for 12 people to stay in Tuscany for 4 nights and 5 days. We paid for everything except 2 dinners and a few rounds of drinks:
- Flights = £1,347.80
- Accomodation = £857.53
- Taxis = £350
- Car hire & petrol = £55
- Food & Drink = £562
We predicted a spend of £4,000, so came in surprisingly under budget. It is proportionately cheaper than the 3 comparisons made above, and the morale it provides for a team over one week is well worth the investment itself.
Last week was an experiment, an experiment that passed with flying colours and something we will being doing on at least an annual basis in the future. Taking your team away to work remotely is definitely an investment that more companies should look into if they are able to do so. Lastly, we also want to thank our team so much for all the support and patience when a router went down, and for being wonderful in general 🙂