Travel is embedded pretty deeply into Buffer’s values—so much so that our entire remote team meets up every 5 months at various spots around the world.

Our Buffer retreats are special times for our remote, distributed team to connect in person with one another, with our Buffer audience and with the community of our host city.

Traveling to different locations each time also gives us a great new perspective on gratitude and the extreme privilege we have to be able to work and live the way we do.

We’ve talked before on the blog about the reasons why we go on retreats, but for this post I thought it might be fun to get more into the details of what we do during our retreats—how we work, what activities we get up to, and, in the spirit of transparency we’re so fond of here, what it all costs. (I’ve converted everything into U.S. dollars for ease of reading.)

In case your company might be considering its own get-together, I hope this post might answer some frequently asked questions about retreats.
inside the buffer retreat

Where to go?

The first big question: Where should we go? This one is really fun to answer every 5 months. So far, the team has been to:

  • Lake Tahoe
  • Thailand
  • South Africa
  • New York
  • Sydney

One thing that’s really neat about being a workplace with no managers is that retreats, too, happen organically. No one is particularly in charge of them, but some awesome leadership has emerged nonetheless.

Generally quite a few months in advance, one teammate will get the ball rolling by opening up a Doodle poll, Wufoo form or Google spreadsheet to pin down dates and location.

For our most recent retreat, Buffer’s fifth, you can see how the vote went as we decided to head to the beautiful city of Sydney.

First the location nominations:

Sydney vote

Then the vote:

retreat voteTools that help us here: Wufoo, Google Drive, Doodle, Google Forms

Getting there

Booking airfare

Once the destination is settled (and a giant email thread of excitement ensues), all teammates are cleared to shop for their own plane ticket and expense it at their leisure.

We do this to give everyone the freedom to plan their own way here.
Some of us choose to travel before or after the retreat—for instance Joel and Brian spent a few weeks before the retreat traveling in Asia.

We give giant props to Hipmunk and our awesome team at Foresight for making the airfare and expense process easy!

Tools that help us here: Hipmunk, Hackpad for sharing flight and city details
Cost: About $2,200 per person, or $57,200 total

One note here: Teammates who are still in their 45-day trial period are not quite eligible for retreats until they finish up the 45 days and come on full time, which has led to some exciting close calls (Dan hopped aboard a plane to South Africa with less than a week’s notice!).

This time around we were able to meet two new teammates: Jose and Thomas!

Finding a place to stay

While we book our plane tickets, a few of amazing teammates begin to focus on where we’ll all stay once we arrive.

We have tried a few different types of accommodations on retreats. In Cape Town, we stayed all together in a few big houses, and I think Thailand might have been similar. In New York, mostly out of necessity, we switched to individual hotel rooms—and that carried on to Sydney as well.

Generally, we look for an affordable spot with great wifi. Breakfast is handy, too!

In Sydney we stayed in the Cambridge Hotel, where everyone was incredibly lovely and accommodating—especially on the day when we took over the hotel restaurant (and later, conference room) to work en masse answering customer tickets following a Google+ situation we accidentally created!

Cambridge conference

Tools that help us here: Google Sheets for sharing hotel info
Cost: $39,992

Where we work

A final piece of the puzzle is where we’ll all work when we get together.

In Cape Town, we simply made space around the common areas of our shared houses to get work done. (Poolside writing was nice!)

In New York, we made the switch to a coworking space near our hotel and really enjoyed the experience of working together at Chinatown’s Projective Space.

For our Sydney trip, we returned to the coworking scene and had an amazing week at Hub Sydney.

roundtable hub sydney

Getting a coworking space is an amazing luxury and does so much to make sure that we have time and space to fully connect with teammates even as we stay in individual hotel rooms. It also keeps us from overrunning hotel lobbies (though we still did a bit of that in Sydney) and generally gives us a big enough space to hold a meetup!

Cost: $3,510

Meeting the community

One of my very favorite things we’ve added to Buffer retreats beginning in New York last fall is the addition of a community meetup wherever we go.

Our community-focused teammates Nicole and Åsa did a killer job of planning this event in Sydney so that there were snacks, drinks, cool tunes, some Q & A time, Buffer swag, and plenty of new people to meet and greet.

Here’s a time-lapse look at the meetup fun:

Our big, big thanks to InVision for sponsoring our beer and cider!

Tools that help us here: Social media for getting the word out, Eventbrite for ticket management
Cost: 
Drinks: AUD $835.56 (thanks, InVision!)
Food: AUD $1791.60
Other expenses: AUD $75
Swag: $180
Event space: AUD $688.88
Total: $2,816

Working together throughout the week

How we work together seems to be a bit different on every retreat. In Thailand (before my time), the group worked on one big project all week, from which Buffer for Business came!

In Cape Town, each team was focused on smaller projects, and we had daily stand-up meetings with all teammates each morning to share our progress.

In New York, the focus switched more to culture. In between regular work sessions, we had in-depth talks about topics like our values and how we might grow.

Having embraced a new philosophy of no managers, based on the book Reinventing Organizations, before our Sydney retreat, things took a different form once again as we tried a model that mimicked the Barcamp “unconference” vibe.

Anyone could sign up to lead a session or roundtable, and team members could attend as many or as few sessions as they liked. Topics ranged from happiness to side projects to CSS/HTML and how Buffer runs.

engineers work session Sydney

The general consensus here was that many of us felt slightly less productive than we normally would have been, but that the chance to talk and learn together in person and discuss ideas face-to-face more than made up for the deficit.

The “unconference” format proved to be a really cool concept that we might try to build upon for our next retreat—we’ve even considering opening up some of the sessions to the community or anyone who might be interested. What do you think?

Extras and fun stuff

It’s not all work and no play when we get together for Buffer retreats. We always try to make a good bit of time to hang out face-to-face and share lots of fun times together.

In Sydney, we got in heaps of amazing group activities, including a team dinner, a trip to Taronga Zoo (koalas!), taking in an amazing outdoor movie together, and a catamaran cruise along the Sydney Harbour.

catamaran cruise

In keeping with the “unconference” theme, there were also other additional activities that team members could choose from, including climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a piano concert at the Sydney Opera House and surf lessons on Bondi Beach.

surfing Bondi

Tools that help us here: We use Facebook Messenger to keep up-to-date with everyone whereabouts and activities throughout the week

Costs:

Outdoor movie: AUD $992
Taronga Zoo: AUD $993
Catamaran cruise: AUD $1,200
Team dinner: AUD $2000
Lunch catering: AUD $403.40
Bridge climb: AUD $2728
Surf lessons: AUD $1360
Team T-shirts: AUD $1037.45
Total: $8,356

Grand total: $111,874

A quick note on additional costs: We tend to try to make retreats as “no cost” as possible for team members, since we all still pay rent/mortgages back home while we’re on them, and little things can quickly add up.

So anyone is free to expense a breakfast, a taxi ride, a SIM card, a dinner—whatever they feel is appropriate—throughout the week. In this way, the overall accounting here is a bit low, as individual reimbursement requests are still coming through for this latest trip.

What’s next?

Where will we go next? Who knows! The next retreat will be July-ish, and we’ve already begun preliminary voting and planning. It feels like a more remote, wintery type environment might be trending now. Here’s how the nominations are going so far:

July 2015 retreat voting

So that’s a bit of a look inside the retreat process for Buffer! I hope it might answer a few questions for you!

I also need to mention that Åsa and Rodolphe are our current retreat heroes and did so much, from accommodations to fun events, to make the Sydney retreat a once-in-a-lifetime memory.

Have you ever gone on a company retreat? What did you do, and how was the experience? I’d love to hear your feedback and tips as we begin planning our next journey.

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Written by Courtney Seiter

Courtney writes about social media, diversity and workplace culture at Buffer. She runs Girls to the Moon on the side and pets every dog she sees.

  • Great insight!

    I’d love to hear more about what you do outside of your working time on these retreats. Do some people go off and do their own thing, or is it quite group-focused? I know – being a ‘business trip’ – the temptation must be there to remain in the group, but it would be good to see if the Buffer lifestyle changes this?

    • Oh, super question Dan! Yeah, everyone kind of does their own thing (which often still involves being together somehow!). I know Leo and Joel always make it a point to get to the gym, while smaller groups will set off on various explorations and adventures. We used Facebook Messenger on this trip and everyone would just post what the were doing (or wanted to do) if they felt like getting a small group together. One night we just had an impromptu pizza party in the hotel :)

  • Beware of the “remote” location aspect of things, in Utah for our last Zapier retreat we were isolated and had a heck of the time with internet. At the peak of our workday it had to be rationed, so the entire team doing a support blitz was out of the question. No cell service also meant no phone tethering, so we had to get creative!

    While being in that remote location is wonderful in many aspects, the connectivity issues should be a hearty consideration, especially with any all-hands emergencies.

    • Oh, that’s so great to know Alison! The cabin looked amazing; was definitely thinking it might be a good option for us in the future. Great to know the pros and the cons ahead of time! :)

  • Desirée Evanshen

    Come to Vancouver BC for your next retreat! There are definitely lots of mountains here!! or Berlin (but only at the end of September / beginning of October lol )

  • rayfilwong

    great post! on sharing

  • Wow, what a great summary Courtney! Nice reading. Thanks for that. Making your meetings public is great idea. I mean it would be great to see how you work real time – live. Maybe even live streaming would be super awesome so we can hear and see how you discuss awesome things.

    I think Reykjavik is your next retreat location based on the feedback :) But here goes a view from our cottage in Czech Republic :) Sounds good? :-) I’d love to see you here :)

    • Oh wow; looks so lovely Petr! And I love the idea of live streaming our work and sessions!

      • Looking forward to see your brainstorming sessions :)

  • Jaina

    The transparency Buffer offer is insane – it’s incredibly useful and insightful to see how you guys work. You guys are doing a great job of showing that remote working simply works.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words and for checking out this post, Jaina!

  • Sounds so fun! I spy a few Vancouver votes :D If your team ever manages to plan a visit here, make sure you let us know in advance!

    • Thanks so much, Tia! I’ve heard great things about Vancouver!

  • Dusan Tomic

    This is so amazing. I’m wondering if there are single parents with kids at Buffer. And can you bring kids, or family members on retreats?
    Guys, keep being so amazing!

    • Hey Dusan! This is a great question and a topic that is always on our minds. We have a number of parents on the team (no single ones that I know of) and we know how tough it is to be away from little ones. Right now retreats are team-only but in the future we may involve family in some or all retreats :)

  • bijanv

    I recently wrote about our experiences in the benefits of doing company retreats as well! For us, we use them as more of an opportunity to do things out of the daily norm (brainstorming and strategy) so we don’t bother with daily work and people feeling unproductive.

    I see a lot of your team is excited about going to Reykjavik. Our last retreat was there last September and it was an amazing experience (albeit expensvie) – https://medium.com/@bijanv/why-we-took-our-whole-company-to-iceland-costa-rica-9a0f38a1693a

    • Oh wow, very interesting Bijan! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences here. I have a feeling resources like this will be very handy as we continue to grow the team and travel. Sounds like your team has had a ton of great travel experiences!

  • Meredith Gould

    My admiration and love for Buffer — the platform, the company, the community — just grows and grows!

  • Elissa Lappenga

    I worked for several years in residential life (college housing) and was fortunate to spend many of them with a department that highly valued team retreats. Our professional staff would “escape” together to a different college’s campus once a year and hold day-long mini-retreats on our own campus a few more times each year. Those of us who led student staff teams were given resources to take them away once or twice a year for retreats as well. These events were key to helping form our team identity, plan our work, realign ourselves with our common mission, and get to know one another on a deeper level. All around, one of my favorite parts of the job. Thanks for this chance to remember how much these retreats mattered!

  • Zippywriter

    Your team rocks the work/life balance issue! How cool that Buffer for Business came out of one of these retreats. It’s a great product, super well organized, and it saves me time every day. Now I like it even more knowing it was created while the team was in Thailand.

  • Oh wow, this is fantastic. I work with clients where their travel budgets are constantly being cut. It’s refreshing to read of a company who value the social aspect to enable them to be more productive and realise that the innovations comes from the social experience and the community. Hey, (jokingly) if you need someone based in Melbourne…tweet me! ;-)

  • YES! I absolutely loved this post, I had been wondering many of the details of the retreats and I think you covered most of what I wanted to know! As always, thanks for the incredible amount of transparency and up-frontness, especially with cost. I know I’ve said it before, but it’s very refreshing to see, and really helps frame things in different ways. I hope the Iceland retreat was even more awesome than the previous ones, and I am excited to see a write up on it sometime soon! =]

  • Luz Iglesias

    Constantly inspired by what you are doing, Buffer. I work at another Teal, self-managed organization – a hiring software & services co. called Fitzii. We did our first offsite retreat this summer – a blend of strategic planning, peer-based feedback, celebrating success, and just plain hanging out. It rocked.

    Our scale was more modest – six team members, two nights, under $4500. I’m saying this here so that other smaller orgs can be inspired to do a great retreat, even if they can’t spend six figures.

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