The pandemic has brought remote work into the limelight like never before. Workers are not only demonstrating their productivity from home, but also communicating their preference for remote work. In a survey conducted by Morning Consult, one in three respondents noted they would not want to work for an employer that required them to be onsite full time. While there's debate among business leaders regarding the pros and cons and whether remote work will stick in a post-covid world, what we do know is that greater flexibility is a growing preference that has intensified since the pandemic.
As a remote company since 2014, SA Expeditions has been dedicated to optimizing this unique business model for many years. While no organizational structure is perfect, we take advantage of the upsides around flexibility, productivity, and additional travel opportunities – something key for a travel company. Simultaneously, we work to counteract some of the drawbacks, such as screen fatigue or the lack of watercooler chats and more spontaneous innovation.
One of the most central and impactful ways we foster a positive company culture – based on horizontal collaboration, trust, and inclusivity – is through our annual company summits held at a new destination each year across the Americas. These SA-sponsored events are geared around enriching and beneficial shared experiences that keep us integrated and focused on the same overarching purpose.
The new watercooler. (Photo: Christian Declercq)
During our summits we spend time together exploring destinations, just as our clients would on their trips with SA. By taking a transformative journey together as a team, we are reminded of the power of travel to give new perspectives, inspire, and enlighten. For us, this means magical boat tours discovering the Galapagos Islands, hikes from cenote to cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula, and kayaking down the Mar de Plata delta outside Buenos Aires. It means engaging with remote Andean communities, exploring Mayan ruins, and sitting lakeside in California's Gold Country. These activities connect us with the places and the people we're visiting and to each other by creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences and long-lasting memories. They bond us in ways traditional team-building seminars could never achieve.
With less opportunity to bond at team BBQs or catered lunches as a remote organization, the in-person time we do have together is invaluable and shouldn't be wasted on cheesy gimmicks or irrelevant guest seminars. Every minute counts and must be thoughtfully coordinated to precision for maximum results. Our annual summits are strategically designed to keep business jargon to a minimum and instead allow space for genuine team-building and informal brainstorming to unfold. Not to mention, they’re a whole lot more fun. With surprises woven in – surprise mariachi serenades, dinners in underground caves, sand dune dance parties at dusk – we create an unforgettable experience.
An impromptu mariachi serenade at Sisal Beach in the Yucatan. (Photo: Christian Declercq)
An important aspect of the gathering is how we stay together in unique accommodations representative of the destination – massive Spanish colonial homes in Mexico, seafront villas in the Galapagos, historic townhouses in Northern California, and authentic estancias outside of Quito – helping us engage with the culture more profoundly, and creating opportunities for those watercooler chats and spontaneous conversations. By ensuring lots of spacious common areas in private accommodation, we end up with more room for innovation and relationship strengthening, whether over family-style breakfasts or during the downtime between excursions.
Lounging in the courtyard of our private casona in Merida, Mexico. (Photo: Christian Declercq)
Furthermore, we include a wellness component to foster balance and underscore our commitment to the whole person, not just our team members' professional sides. Wellness and health are especially critical following the pandemic year when our team, like the entire globe, suffered high levels of stress and uncertainty. Therefore for our first summit following the onset of Covid-19, which was held in Merida, Mexico in June 2021, we included a special cleansing ceremony by a well-renowned shaman from the Yucatan area, and optional yoga and reiki classes woven into the daily itinerary.
Wellness features prominently at each summit, such as a shamanic cleansing in Mexico (left) and bayfront yoga in the Galapagos Islands (right). (Photos: Christian Declercq)
At dusk, before each evening cocktail, our leaders take advantage of the golden hour to share reflections on the year passed, what we accomplished, what we are proud of, who we want to show gratitude to, and why. We also share where we're headed, what we hope to accomplish in the next year, and how each team member is critical to our continued success. Then, more excitement always follows, whether it be Mayan fire dancers, Brazilian samba drummers, Andean bandas del pueblo, or electro tango DJs to immerse you in the sounds and enchantment of the place.
Strategy, collaboration, and visiting Mayan ruins are all in a day’s work at our summits. (Photo: Christian Declercq)
The whole experience unites us as a professional organization. It binds us in a much deeper, more intrinsic way that supports our collaboration and progress in the years ahead. As a Certified B Corp deeply committed to our values of balancing profit with purpose, we care deeply about our team's well-being and the state of our company culture. We want our company's purpose to benefit not only our travelers but everyone and everything impacted by our trips.
As more companies go remote, we hope more businesses will understand the unique value and importance of thoughtful team retreats and knit them into their organizational design. If you're interested in assistance making your organization's in-person time together really count, contact us for more information on how we may be able to help. We not only understand the challenges and goals of business summits after many years of delivering our own, but as a travel firm specializing in exclusive custom experiences, we’ve also become experts on how to manage a growing remote company.
When you establish a culture of integrity, accountability, and trust and include sufficient in-person engagement and collaboration to reinforce it, organizations of this nature can flourish. Those who achieve sincere engagement enjoy increased retention, productivity, profitability, customer satisfaction, and, above all, greater purpose.
About the Author: Riva Bacquet serves as COO of SA Expeditions from her home in Lima, Peru, where she’s a nationalized citizen. Originally from California, she holds a BA in International Studies from Pitzer College and an MBA from Santa Clara University near Silicon Valley. As a strong believer in the power of travel to create positive change, she takes a unique purpose-led approach to business.