Learnings from our 2021 kickoff

“Our 2021 kickoff is going to have to be virtual”. 

Thinking back to last summer, even as I said the words, my heart sank. 

Our annual company kick off has always been a huge source of pride for us. Each January, we jumpstart the year with a company-wide kickoff extravaganza called the All Hands. 

We fly the entire global company in and spend a week together— it is a shared moment of celebration and electric energy. Organizing this event each year is one of the team’s biggest pride and joys. 

Then last summer, as the true magnitude of the Covid crisis continued to unfurl, we succumbed to the inevitable conclusion that the All Hands this January would have to be virtual. I was crestfallen. Of course it had to be virtual in the Covid world—but… were we really supposed to generate energy, excitement and enthusiasm over hours of Zoom presentations? After this past excruciating year, didn’t our employees deserve so much better?

Yet, challenges present new sets of opportunities, and gradually the concept of a virtual All Hands started to percolate. I didn’t know much about designing a virtual event, but I knew one thing for certain—I didn’t want the All Hands to be just a lesser, virtual version of our normal All Hands. If we were going to have a virtual event, we were truly going to lean into the virtual-ness and give our employees a unique experience to remember.  Thankfully, the member of my team that was in charge of the event is at least as creative as she is tenacious, and I was relieved to have her helping hand. 

So, we unshackled ourselves from the history of the past events, and went right back to our roots and original objectives. We wanted our employees to: 

  • share moments of laughter and levity, particularly coming off the year that we’ve just had. 
  • feel inspired, energized, and excited about the company’s future.
  • meet new snykers that they didn’t normally have a chance to work with.
  • come away informed on our future plans and priorities.

And so we set about designing a digital experience around these objectives. We leaned hard into the unique features that only a digital experience could provide, and our snykers responded right back. Through chats and collaboration breakouts, snykers across the globe engaged actively and energetically, no matter the time of night or day in their timezone. And in the end, several even said this was our best All Hands yet. 

It was certainly not without its challenges, and the virtual environment only accentuated stylistic differences in how people prefer to receive content. But in aggregate, with an overall feedback score of 90% positive, I can’t help but feel proud that we were able to give our snykers an event they deserved. 

A few of our learnings that we believe made a difference in the success of a virtual event: 

  • We rented a platform to stream our content and for our snykers to collaborate. Having a separate platform, where the look and feel was fundamentally different from our usual platform that we use everyday, helped make the experience special.
  • We engaged a production agency to digitally enhance all presentations with professional special effects that brought the content to life, bringing the audience along on the arc of our narrative.
  • We enlisted snykers across the world in different acts throughout the week, so that colleagues could get little glimpses into each other’s lives and personalities in an entirely new context. This was probably the largest source of delight for everyone, and reaffirmed for me again the strength of our snyker community. 
  • We interspersed serious content with humorous clips and videos that brought a flavour of internationalness, creativity, intimacy, humour, and human connection across the entire experience. 

The lesson we learned 

As I reflect back, I feel a sense of pride in the team, that something we had been so apprehensive about, turned out in the end to be one of our biggest achievements. It’s ok to be terrified—covid has terrified us all, in different ways. But in each setback also lies an opportunity to build and grow, for something new and better to emerge. 

I miss meeting our snykers terribly, and hope desperately that we can gather in-person again for our All Hands next year. But even if we do, that too will present a challenge, because this year’s All Hands was just that good. The bar has been raised yet again. I look forward to that new challenge already.


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