It’s a Merit tradition to host an annual camping trip for our employees. With COVID-19 cases still rising around the country, it seemed like having a typical camp experience wasn’t possible this year. However, we weren’t ready to give up without a fight! We understood that camp had to look a little different if it was to continue this year, so the People Operations (POPs) team got to work on planning what would be our first ever VIRTUAL CAMP! Instead of our usual full weekend trip (and an extra-long bus ride), it was condensed into a one-day event on a Monday so that our employees could enjoy a much needed day off.
Camp Merit planning began in May and started with reviewing activities that were done the previous year. Similar to camp the year before, we wanted to incorporate different tracks that could happen concurrently, allowing Merit employees to have options in a variety of different events based on what looked most interesting to them. We also decided to include an additional track for our employees’ children. Why? Because let’s face it, everyone with kids has been pulling double duty for the past couple of months, so in an attempt to alleviate some stress for our parents, we figured it’d be a good idea to include some things specifically targeted for families with small children.
With less than a month left before camp, we had to get creative and fast! Here’s what our expedited timeline looked like:
4 Weeks Out
We looked at Airbnb Experiences to get ideas of the types of events being offered virtually. Then we scoured the internet and contacted a number of different individuals who we hoped had an interest in being a part of our virtual camp. Many places were getting creative during COVID-19, and we found escape rooms, cooking teachers, and more that transitioned what they usually do in-person to an online format. Most of them were interested, so the hardest part was deciding how to fit everything into our schedule. Figuring out how to incorporate a shark scientist in South Africa (GMT+2) without shifting all the other events during their respective timeslots was no easy feat. It felt like we were playing a game of Tetris, but with hard work everything managed to come together.
3 Weeks Out
Once all activities were confirmed and headcounts for each activity were finalized, we had to quickly shift gears and order all the supplies for each kit that we would later collect at the office. Getting everything shipped to us within a week (with understandable COVID-19 delays) made us sweat a little, but we made it work!
2 Weeks Out
All supplies were shipped to the office while it was closed, but with the help of our wonderful office manager, we received all of our packages. After sending out a full schedule of activities being offered at camp (check out our final list here), everyone was able to customize their own schedule and would later receive a box of supplies personalized for the activities they chose. With a few scares along the way, we raced to complete everyone's personalized camp kits before the big day — and even threw in a few snacks and camp stickers made special for the event!
1 Week Out
Kits were shipped to out of state employees (and one out-of-country; hello Australia!) and couriered to everyone who was local. All employees had their camp kits in their hands by Saturday, two days before camp!
All in all, we got very positive feedback from our employees, which in our book, was a huge success! As with every camp, the goal is to spend time together, not talk about work, have fun, and try new things. Virtual camp was completely new for everyone, but it brought us together for some well-earned bonding time. Merit never ceases to amaze the POPs team and we're constantly reminded of how great of a company we truly are.
As much as we did our best to plan around situations that might occur during our virtual camp, you never know what’s going to happen. Nonetheless, this is how we grow and make camp better for next year!
Some key takeaways:
Overall, everyone enjoyed spending time together since we hadn’t seen each other (outside of meetings) since sheltering in place/travel suspension
Variety in activities was appreciated
Learning something new/providing new experiences were highlights
Not all activities will be suited towards everyone’s tastes, but that’s to be expected (i.e. speakers, casual campfire)
Plan more/longer breaks in between sessions
Packing everything into one day can be draining for attendees
Provide more breakout sessions. We gathered from our feedback survey that employees liked the smaller group interactions to catch up on a more personal level
Employees would love to have more virtual team-building events while we’re still sheltering in place so that they can feel more connected