Culture, Customers, and Code: Reaction Commerce All Hands 2019
Here at Reaction Commerce, we believe that fully distributed teams are the future. They allow employees to live wherever they choose, which hopefully adds to their life enjoyment. And more importantly, they create more inclusive environments for those who cannot, for whatever reason (like disability, mental well-being, childcare, or commuting), be in an office on a daily basis.
Although we are a remote-first organization, we do believe that face-to-face interaction can be truly special and not easily replicated by online relationships. Due to this, Reaction has been hosting a yearly All Hands get-together for the past five years.
Since our 2018 All Hands, a lot has changed at Reaction. Our team grew over 50%, we gained a CTO (Mathias Meyer), and we signed a number of exciting customers. To add to the excitement, we decided to conduct All Hands week a little differently this year: We took it offsite.
Prior to 2019, our All Hands weeks took place in our headquarters in Los Angeles. Although this was convenient for those who lived in town (about 30% of the company), it unintentionally created differing experiences for townies verse remotes. (It’s not easy to convince your partner, children, pets that you need to be at work all day plus attending dinners and activities for a week straight.) This year we were ready to invest in building an event that was fun, effective, and equitable for all of our employees.
Planning for success
We went into All Hands with two goals:
- Connect with each other on a more personal level by spending time together and engaging in meaningful conversations and activities.
- Clarify and strengthen our core values, operating principles, goals, and priorities for the remainder of 2019.
With our goals in place, it was time to plan.
When choosing a location, Palm Springs came up early in the conversation. Not only did Sara Hicks (our fearless leader, CEO, and co-founder) grow up there, but it's a stunningly beautiful location which lent itself to epic outdoor and indoor activities. And we knew we needed a spot that was worth the effort of traveling, because we had folks flying in from four continents around the globe.
Event planning was a group effort spearheaded by Sara and Mathias and executed with massive help from Amanda, EA extraordinaire. They made a conscious decision to pivot from having multiple days of presentations, to filling the majority of our time with workshops and working sessions. Because we wanted all employees to have some ownership of the week’s activities, the workshop topics were all submitted and voted on collectively by the team. We ended up with a really engaging slate of sessions, covering everything from hiring diverse humans to onboarding our customers and defining Reaction’s open source philosophy.
Work and play
But the week wasn’t all business. There was some downtime as well. Many folks started their days with workouts—the gym, tennis courts, and running paths saw plenty of action. So did the pool and the lazy river. Evenings were filled with laughter and even a trip to Olive Garden (we are inclusive of all dining choices).
We wanted to give people space to do their own thing, but we also wanted to make time for group activities. One of the most loved was our excursion to Joshua Tree National Park. This included rock climbing (and rock-climbing-watching, for those of us who enjoy stable ground), a short hike, and an epic team photo.
It’s all about the people
To us, effective teamwork doesn’t just mean coding and project planning. Building interpersonal relationships is of equal, if not greater, importance. To help us grow as co-workers and humans, we brought in a consultant to lead a Non-Violent Communication workshop, which was a great success. We learned and practiced how to better understand our individual needs and communicate those with our co-workers.
The people at Reaction are what make this company special, and it’s a privilege to be able to fly our teammates in and bask in how lovely everyone is. We started the week off with a gratitude circle in which each employee was named individually and then we had 45 seconds to praise them for their individual flavors of awesome. These ranged from help with a work problem to positive support through a bad day or sharing knowledge about something outside of work. After this was completed someone noted that “this is, by far, the nicest company I have ever worked for.” Reaction’s tangible achievements—the code, congrats, and customers—are all important, but the culture we’re building here is what we are truly most proud of, and what this All Hands week was all about.
As for the goals I mentioned above: Through feedback survey results, it’s clear that we achieved the goal of building relationships through quality time, and we made huge leaps towards clarifying our objectives and ensuring we’re steadfast in our values. We all left feeling excited about the future, supported by our peers, and full from lots of catered lunches.
I can’t wait to see what the coming year brings us at Reaction Commerce, and I know we’re all looking forward to catching up in person again in 2020.