Company retreats should be special, but not completely different

Published 2015-08-21 by Jochen Lillich

In the first week of August, we met for the latest installment of our company retreat named “freistil Days”. As a remote team, we come together every 5 months in order to strengthen our relationships and to do things we can’t do otherwise. On each retreat, we learn something that helps us improve the next one. In this post, I’ll explain what we learned this time.


The question of how long our retreat should be and how the schedule should look like is now pretty much settled. A whole week from Monday to Sunday has proven long enough to get a good bit of work done and short enough to limit the impact of our absence on the business and our families. We’ve arranged the schedule in a symmetrical way:

  • Monday and Sunday are designated travel days.
  • Midway through, Thursday is a good opportunity to do sight seeing so we get out and about a bit.
  • This leaves two pairs of work days where we focus on projects.

The impressive control centre at the Miniaturen Wunderland, the largest model railway in the world.

Just like the previous times, we had prepared a schedule for these work days with time slots for project work, daily business, eating breaks and spare time. It hadn’t occurred to us until this time how hugely different this was from our normal year-round modus operandi. As a remote team, we trust that everyone knows their objectives and goals, and will work towards them. We don’t dictate when or how this work is to be done, though. This freedom creates a space for everyone to find their individual approach to working effectively. Halfway through these freistil Days, the Emperor’s Clothes question was finally spoken: “Why is our company retreat, of all things, the complete opposite?” We weren’t able to find a valid reason, so we decided to ditch the time slots, allowing everyone to decide individually when they’d work on freistilbox Solo, on support tickets or on other urgent business and when they’d rather lie down and read. From there, things got a lot more relaxed and (as expected) we still got a lot of work done.

Taking a break from work in the middle also does for a nice change. This time, we visited Hamburg’s Speicherstadt with the “Miniaturen Wunderland”, the world’s largest model railway. The amount of effort that went into building hundreds of square meters of model landscapes is amazing. And the control centre (see photo) was quite impressive, too. (Hey, we’re IT geeks.)


In advance of a retreat, we identify two or three projects on which we’d like to focus while we’re sitting around the same table. This time, we’ve decided to work on one customer-facing and one internal project.

Markus and Philipp getting things done

The launch of our entry-level hosting plan freistilbox Solo has been delayed for months because we decided to base it on a new IT architecture that will also help us improve our existing enterprise hosting platform at a later time. freistil Days gave us the opportunity to focus on getting the new architecture further ahead and while it’s not finished, we’re much closer to a usable product now.

Behind the scenes we had noticed that our development workflows needed improvement. Now that there’s a whole team working on automating our IT infrastructure, the usual issues around collaboration, testing and releasing changes made us rethink how we do “infrastructure as code”. On a lovely Wednesday, walking along the green riverbanks of the Alster, we came up with a simple Continuous Deployment process that will give us everything we need with much less manual effort than before.

Freedom creates a space

Group dynamics

Spending a whole week together as a group certainly is a big difference to our normal team experience. All the unavoidable social interaction tends to draw a lot of energy, especially for introverts (which all of us seem to be to different extents). After a few days, our lunch conversations became less engaging and silent pauses got longer. Towards the end of the week, we all felt a bit exhausted.

So it was a good decision to get rid of the rigid schedule because this will allow us in the future to take time off the group whenever we like, whenever we feel it’s necessary.

On the plus side, we got a better understanding for each other and more clarity about our strengths and weaknesses.


Third time’s the charm! Our freistil Days in Hamburg advanced us as a team and as a company. We deepened our relationships and made progress on our products and internal processes. And most importantly, we had a lot of fun!

If you’d like to see for yourself what freistil Days (and the rest of the freistil year) are like, get in touch!