Company Meet-Up: Amsterdam Editionwith Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Meetups offer remote companies an opportunity to gather away from the day-to-day for more in-depth conversations that foster deeper relationships for the team and bigger leaps for the company.
At the beginning of October, sixty 37signals employees met up in Amsterdam for the first company-wide meetup outside the U.S.
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the Co-founders of 37signals, discuss the importance of in-person meetups for remote companies, the structure they use for their twice-yearly team gathering, and tips and insight for other companies on planning their own offsite meetings.
- [00:34] - The essential value of gathering the entire team together.
- [02:05] - Why the company decided to gather outside the U.S. for their latest meetup.
- [02:29] - The changing rhythm of a global company working across several time zones.
- [04:12] - How moving the event to Amsterdam turned it into a social experience.
- [04:51] - The priceless value of extravagant experiences and live connections to stay strong and connected as a remote company.
- [06:39] - Post COVID-19: Why the company-wide meetup experience is an expense not to be cut.
- [07:26] - How the scarcity of the experience adds to its value.
- [07:54] - The structure 37signals uses for their meetups.
- [09:41] - How getting together as a group fosters bigger, more crystallized discussions for bigger leaps as a company.
- [11:22] - From the intimacy of the small group dinners to the peer appreciation event, how the meetup fosters deeper relationships for the team.
- [13:33] - Unifying the unique human experience through sharing cultural diversity.
- [15:10] - The challenges of transporting such a large and diverse group to the meetup location.
- [15:52] - Introducing the Amsterdam meetup lessons into future events.
- [17:04] - Jason and David share their tips and advice for other remote companies looking to host their own company meetup.
Links and Resources:The REWORK podcast
@reworkpodcast on Twitter
@37signals on Twitter
Sign up for a 30-day free trial at Basecamp.com
Kimberly (00:00): Welcome to Rework a podcast by 37signals about the better way to work and run your business. I’m your host Kimberly Rhodes at the beginning of October 60, 37signals employees met up in Amsterdam for the first company wide meetup outside the us I’m joined by 37signals co-founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson to talk all about this recent meetups and the importance of in-person gatherings for remote companies. Hey guys, I know you’ve written a bit about meetups in your book remote, but tell us a little bit about why we do meetups as a company.
Jason (00:34): We’ve done them for a long time and I don’t think we realize just how valuable they were until we didn’t do them during Covid. Basically we do these 10, tend to do 'em twice a year for about a week at a time. And it’s primarily a social event, so we spend some time working together. First day or two is kinda work stuff, but then we have events that we go to. We have shared small dinners and mostly people just hang out with each other and there’s something incredibly valuable, obviously about breathing the same air, eating the same meals, hanging out at the same table that we don’t do the rest of the year cause we’re all remote. And I think essential, actually absolutely essential to the business to be able to do these kinds of things, but we do them to bring people together, especially great for new employees, you get to meet everybody. Some old timers, we all know each other already, but you know, wanna meet new people. New people need to meet new people, new people need to meet old people. And there’s no other way to do that, I think, than to do it in real life. And that’s why we do these.
Kimberly (01:34): And I think this was the largest one that we’ve had to date. Is that a true statement?
Jason (01:39): Probably.
Kimberly (01:40): And I also think it probably had the most new employees, like employees who was their first meetup?
Jason (01:46): I think so. I think there was something like 13, 14, 15, maybe new people since the last meetup, which we had in was it March? February? I don’t remember when it was in Miami. Yeah.
Kimberly (01:59): And so this one was the first meetup outside the us. Tell us why we did that.
David (02:05): Part of it is that the company is now larger outside the US than it is inside the US by a fraction. I think maybe one or two people more outside the US than inside the us. And a lot of those people have come from Europe. It used to be that 37 singles was almost predominantly in the us, almost exclusively in the US And we had a few people in Canada, We had one or two people in Europe. But now we have a situation where we have a bunch of people in Europe. And not only has that changed a bit of the rhythm of the company in a day to day since, I mean obviously I’m from Denmark and I started working with Jason living in Denmark and I’ve lived in Europe on and off over the years and for many years when I got up in the morning and sat in front of the computer, it was crickets.
(02:51): When I got on at 10:00 AM Spain time for example, there were just no one there. We were three people sitting there. Now the company is buzzing because there’s actually a bunch of developers and designers and people from all sorts of different groups in Europe. So it just felt like it was kind of the right time to recognize the fact that more than half the company is no longer in the us. And well for the last one in Miami, everyone from Europe traveled over to Florida and for this one, everyone in the US could travel to Amsterdam which was something that felt perhaps more extravagant to do when the whole company was already in the us. I mean there’s additional expenses with international travel, but hey, we’re gonna have those expenses now anyway. It’s not really a lot more expensive to fly someone from the US to Europe then the other way around.
(03:40): So that also just felt right that it was right to, this is the kind of company we are now of what, just over 80 people, something now and 60 of them came to Amsterdam. This feels like a thing we should do differently. I mean for many years. The other factor of course was that we had the office, we had a 10 year lease in Chicago for an office that we used twice a year for the meetups. And it was very convenient and I think it was great in many ways, but it was also maybe a little boring mean, especially for people who didn’t call Chicago home. I mean they’d seen Chicago, but for the fifth of the sixth time, you’ve kind of checked out Chicago for a bunch of people. Amsterdam, that was the first time they were there, which is kind of cool too. We’re doing this for social reasons anyway. Let’s give people a bit of an experience and have some fun in a new novel location where we all have to find out like, oh, what’s a good restaurant here or whatever.
Jason (04:37): And I think we’ll probably end up bouncing back and forth. So maybe Europe in the fall, the US or Canada, we have a number of people in Canada, maybe in the spring, something like that. And we’ll figure it out as we go. But that seems like a pretty good rhythm given the fact that we’re close to 50 50.
Kimberly (04:52): Well, and David, you said it was some people’s first time in Amsterdam. I know there were a lot of people in the U.S., not a lot, a few who was their first time to travel outside the country. They got a passport to go on this trip. So I think when you say it feels extravagant, I think from an employee’s standpoint it does. I know my second day of work is when I found out we were going to Amsterdam, literally day two, and I was poking around a Basecamp project and I was like, Wait a minute, we’re going to Amsterdam. So I think extravagant is how it feels,
David (05:22): Which is also what it should feel like because it’s rare. We don’t do this every week, we don’t do it every month, we do it twice a year. And it is an extravagant expense in some regards. It is expensive, but that’s only comparing to considering how expensive it is not to do it. And this is what you always have to consider, Oh that machine is so expensive, but how much is it gonna cost not to have it? And this is a social cohesion machine. And as Jason said, we really got exposed to the cost of not having that during the epidemic. Everyone did. Everyone got exposed to what does it feel like to not see coworkers for months or in some cases even years because you just can’t, and the results are not good, not good at all. Humans simply need these kind of live connections to stay strong and to stay connected and therefore that expense does not feel that extravagant in that picture.
(06:20): Even though whenever we do them, I usually think up front like, Oh man, I can’t believe we’re spending so much money on it. And then at the end of it I think, Oh man, I cannot believe how great this was. We had that last dinner, we’re all together. And I’m like, this is, I mean not quite literally, but this feels priceless in the moment. This feels like an expense you would not want to cut because you just know that the effects the corrosiveness on the culture would be there. And what I find so interesting about that is that twice in years of enough, right? I don’t need to see all my coworkers every week or even every month, but it still feels like it has that human connection if I see them twice a year. And that in itself is just sort of a fascinating aspect of human behavior that you know what? You can actually go longer than you think, but you can’t go forever. You certainly can’t go two and a half years like we did during there being some consequences.
Kimberly (07:17): Well it’s funny cuz the last day I was like, Oh, I’m so sad to leave people. And then I was like, Well, I’ll see you in six months. That goes by really fast if you think about it,
Jason (07:26): It does here before you know it. But also to David’s point, scarcity is actually what makes it better. That six months is half a year, obviously it’s a fair amount of time. It’s not forever away, but it’s also not next week. And so then when this moment comes and you have another five days together, you really do value it in a way that you wouldn’t if you did it three or four or five times a year. So scarcity is a big part of why it’s valuable.
Kimberly (07:54): So tell me a little bit about the structure of the meetup. What is for everybody, what is optional? Kind of walk us through that for people listening.
Jason (08:02): Yeah, so it’s typically, well it’s Monday through Friday, although historically people have been sort of leaving Thursday ish. People have families. It’s hard to be away from kids and your spouse, the whole thing. So that’s hard. But we have five days typically Monday is Monday morning is an all hands. So David and I and Elaine will give a talk talking about the state of the business, some things that are on our minds, some things we’re planning on doing, some stuff that everybody should know about basically. And then there’s some q and a of which we didn’t do enough this time but we should do more next time. I don’t know whatever happened there, we just kind of didn’t do enough q and a apparently. But so we do some q and a, we break for lunch and then we had a team building thing in the afternoon, so a whole company thing.
(08:47): So Monday’s basically a required day for everybody. And then there’s these small dinners people can sign up to join small group dinners between I think four and six people or something. And there’s a signup sheet for that and you can go to dinner with some friends the next day. There’s typically something in the morning, then there’s a lunch and then the afternoon is free. And so it begins to fade away from having full days to half days. Wednesday there’s something in the morning, afternoons are free, people take go on activities and stuff but there’s always a breakfast, there’s always a lunch. And then there’s one company dinner the farewell dinner and then there’s these group meals and group activities along the way. And Andrea does an incredible job of organizing everything and coming up with things for people to do. You can also just wander and have no agenda. It’s kinda up to you, but really the first two days are scheduled and the rest are flimsy in a sense. But intentionally so
David (09:42): I think part of the aspect I really like about it too is that is an occasion to have some of the bigger discussions in a group together. For example, this we’re leaving the cloud post came directly out of the meeting I had with the whole ops team. Aaron was there and the rest of the op team was there and we talked about, hey, what does it look like? Where are we right now? We’d already been quite far into the exploration of this process, but it really crystallized things together. This is where we’re going, we’re going off the cloud. And we had a number of these kinds of discussions were the weight and the ceremony of it kind of gives you permission to make bigger leaps, bigger determinations because you are in person together. And I think we typically use that pretty well that sometimes a few weeks before the meetup will be like, Do you know what?
(10:33): Let’s save that for the meetup. Let’s just have that discussion in person together. And I think as Jason says, a lot of that comes from the scarcity of it. If we did this every month, no it wouldn’t be a special moment for you to take stock and really have some deep discussions that would lead to big consequential decisions. But because it only happens once every six months, we can do that. Now. The other thing I should say is we also do these just smaller events. I would go, and that was a blast in Amsterdam as well. It was the first time I ever saw a go-kart course indoor with elevation. It had hills and things down and yeah, good times.
Kimberly (11:15): Did you win?
Kimberly (11:23): One of my favorite parts of the meetup honestly are the small group dinners because you get to really talk to people in a smaller group setting where it’s relaxed and no pressure. And sometimes in a big group meeting 60 people all the same time is a little overwhelming, but when you’re talking to six at dinner, it’s just a different feel. That’s my favorite part. I’m curious what some of your favorite parts of the meetup have been.
Jason (11:47): I like the we do this thing on this time. I think we did it on Thursday, this peer appreciation event, which I think is, it’s when people come up and they say something about someone they work with, something that either has gone unrecognized or something everybody knows, but no one has said, or they just wanna draw attention to somebody’s great work or great attention or great friendship or great mentoring or whatever it might be. And it’s a really, really special and emotional moment. I think that’s really to me, and I like that we sort of do it near the end. It’s a really nice wrap up. So that’s the thing I tend to look forward to the most in these meetups. And then just the general hanging around and spontaneity and bumping into people and choosing to do something with some people or having a conversation that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. So that one planned thing, and then just the spontaneity of the rest of it is what I like the
David (12:40): Most. I’d say my favorite thing is I get a chance to talk to a bunch of people often through the small dinners, sometimes through the activities that we do that I don’t work closely with on a day to day basis that perhaps aren’t part of the product group or someone else that I’m giving or just working directly with all the time because they might have a different manager or they might be in a different team or something else like that. The meetup is a really good opportunity for that cross mixing, and I’ve heard that from quite a few people too that, hey, I have really hanging out with the team that I’m on a day-to-day basis, but at the meet ups I get to talk to people from all over the company in a way that you just wouldn’t otherwise you could. I mean it’s not like you could ping anyone inside Basical like, hey, what’s going on? But here’s an opportunity and an excuse almost to do it and it’s really great.
Kimberly (13:33): Yeah, I know for me it made me realize just how global a company we are going to a small group dinner and I’m sitting next to someone from the Czech Republic and Singapore and Rolando’s in Miami, but he’s Venezuelan and someone from Italy and I’m the sole American going, This is very cool to be in a company that is so global and has such a diverse group of people.
Jason (14:00): It is cool to see and yeah, you’re introduced, it’s fun. Some people bring different things from their home country and people trade. It’s a really fun event actually. It’s a really nice thing to be exposed to other cultures and how people things value and it’s great. It’s really wonderful.
Kimberly (14:16): Okay, so what’s coming up next? Do we know, I’ve heard some rumors about the next meetup. I don’t know what is true.
Jason (14:23): There’s some rumors
David (14:24): I haven’t heard the rumors. I want to hear the rumors.
Jason (14:33): Did you start that rumor Dallas?
Kimberly (14:35): No, I didn’t actually. I did not at all. But I’ve heard like, hey Kimberly, we do it in Dallas, I’m sure some places Austin, I’ve heard and Vegas.
So I kind of wanna subject the Europeans to Las Vegas. That’s sort of my
David (14:50): Is this hazing?
Kimberly (15:53): Right Before we wrap up, is there anything that we’ve learned from previous meetups that we either did in Amsterdam differently or that we’ll do differently going forward? I know you said something about more q and a.
Jason (16:06): Yeah, we should do a bit more q and a. We typically have done that. I’m not sure what happened this time, but apparently we didn’t do enough. That’s some of the feedback we heard. I think the big thing is, is that Miami was too structured, so we had too many things going on in Miami and we dialed that way back in Amsterdam and I think it was much better because of that. Not that the things we did in Miami weren’t worth doing, but they definitely aren’t worth doing. Every meetup and having just empty space with nothing to do is really valuable, especially when people are traveling from far away. And in the case of Americans, normally it’s Europeans traveling. People just seem to kind of acclimate and they wanna bump into people and have some time. I remember in Miami I didn’t really get a chance to really even meet with the design team hardly at all just because there’s everything was scheduled. So in this meetup we got to meet up some more and hang out some more and I think it was really valuable. So I think something we learned that we maybe we’d forgotten, which is empty space is good space, blank space is good. You don’t need to fill up schedules.
Kimberly (17:04): And then I’m gonna ask one more question before we wrap up. For people who are listening who maybe are in a remote work situation, business owners who are like, I don’t do this but I need to do this, Do you have any advice for just getting started? Obviously you’re not gonna all of a sudden fly your entire company to Amsterdam when you’re starting out, but what can you do when you’re starting out? Any advice on that?
David (17:23): We started very small. I mean, when we got going with doing these meetups, I think we were only seven people or something and at that time, even a bunch of them were in Chicago and I think we just drove to Wisconsin or something. Like, it does not have to be extravagant. It does not have to be a big production. It doesn’t have to be all the belt and whistles we have now after doing this for 15 years. The important thing is really the social engagement. So getting together in whatever way, shape or form is easiest. And then if it’s too hard because you’re too spread out, also think about doing multiple smaller ones for a while and maybe even still, we’ve had sort of smaller meetups where or maybe seven or eight people would get together in some form, just do something. I think if you are in a remote setup now and you haven’t done something that’s in person, you’re missing out. You really are.
Kimberly (18:18): Yeah. Well I think that is it for us today. Thanks guys for joining us on the podcast. Rework is a production of 37signals. You can find show notes and transcripts on our email@example.com. You can also follow us on Twitter at rework podcast.