Next Matter offsites: building a foundation for our values, purpose, and culture

Elisabeth Wagner
November 9, 2022

Imagine taking a walk along the Spree in Berlin with team members you’re normally used to seeing in video calls. One of them is based in Berlin and is telling you about the best nearby restaurants, how the city changed during the pandemic, and how Berlin’s public transport has the best marketing strategy of any city. 

Welcome to your first Next Matter offsite.

Remote work. People first.

Next Matter was founded in 2018 before the pandemic forced many companies to begin working remotely. But, working from home was never a problem here since Next Matter has always had a remote work policy (regardless of the location). That’s why the switch to the virtual world was pretty easy, as routines and accommodations were already in place. If we attempt to change the future of work, we also have to live it ourselves, after all.

Right at the beginning, Steve, the first member to join the Next Matter team, knew that he eventually wanted to make the move to Helsinki. His move began the slow formation of a remote setting for those who needed it and has proven to be an invaluable cornerstone of Next Matter culture during and after the pandemic. Many companies weren’t as prepared for a remote setting, and those who did offer their employees the potential to work remotely tended only to do so for positions that were mostly independent of other teams.

The team has put in a lot of effort to make sure we stay connected. While we still love collaboration, we simultaneously respect each other's personal lives. That means time with our families or doing whatever hobbies inspire us outside work. With space given to focus on the things that fulfill us on a personal level, we can also bring our best selves to work.
— Steve, Design Lead

The benefits of a remote work-from-anywhere setting

Because we’re a work-from-anywhere company with team members located in 11 different countries, we’ve decided to allow for asynchronous work schedules. This has given the team the freedom to take care of their family obligations as well as personal matters without needing to adhere to strict work schedules.

An added benefit is that our team is more productive in a remote setting than they would be at the office (although we do have an office located in Berlin for those who are interested).

I always had problems focusing in the office. Working in a noisy open space with a ton of distractions was really draining for me. I would get home from work and be completely exhausted, regardless of how much work I did during the day. Being able to work remotely from the comfort of my own home is amazing. It's quiet here, and when I take a break, it's actually a break, and I am able to fully disconnect for a moment.
— Manana, Engineering Team Lead

Although Manana hadn’t worked in a remote setting before, she shared the same experiences and feelings that the rest of our team had as well. The ability to wake in the morning on a schedule that suits you, and begin work either super early (or a bit later than others) to finish when you see fit is really empowering. If you have an appointment, it’s easy to let your team know.

Why we have two offsites per year

First, let’s start with the basics: our company is currently pretty small (around 30 people at the moment), and we’re also growing sustainably. Having a small team means we can organize offsites a bit more easily than a company with 100 or more team members. That’s why we aim to have around two offsites per year – one at the beginning of the year to get started together and one in September to reconnect and realign after the summer.

We’ve only had four offsites so far because of the pandemic, but we’ve picked the first three locations based on where our current team members are living: Vienna, Barcelona, and Berlin. The first offsite was virtual (in case you thought I forgot how to count). 

The idea is to connect with each other by experiencing the cities we live in. In Vienna, we got to walk around the city, go to a few popular restaurants and Biergärten (Beer gardens), and see what it was like living in this city from the perspective of our team members based there. The same thing happened in Barcelona and Berlin as well.

It just gives you so much energy. Sure, we naturally talk a lot about work stuff, but there are also a lot of other conversations and activities going on. We'll also go out and do a few ad-hoc things together, like grabbing a drink or going for a walk. I find that the team shares a lot of positive energy when we’re together in person, and I feel these effects even well after the offsite is finished. The feeling in the team changes and is much more energized and personal.
— Steve, Design Lead

Organizing offsites with team members from around the world

At this point, you probably are wondering how we managed to get people from around the world (someone from the US visited us this time, too) to Berlin, Germany. Well, we happen to have a secret weapon: Dagmar. 

She spent most of her life working as a travel agent, so the skills are not only relevant, they’re incredibly powerful when it comes to organizing the perfect offsite for people normally used to working in a remote setting. This time, we were in the Michelberger Hotel, which is a gorgeous location known for its Berlin vibes. The atmosphere was great, and we got to take advantage of incredible locally-sourced food.

I think the hotel and the venue were a good match for the team. Whenever you're organizing an event, having that match helps because it functions as a door opener and makes everyone feel welcome. The Michelberger Hotel just fit the spirit of the Next Matter team, which is always what you're aiming for.
— Dagmar, Office Manager

From the virtual world to Berlin

We didn’t, however, start out with local-sourced food in twice-a-year offsites around Europe. We’d developed that on the back of experiments. Like the time we all got Oculus VR glasses and met virtually during the pandemic.

This was the first attempt at gathering the team together during a really hard period in many people’s lives. We shipped off the VR headsets, created a plan with some games we could play, created avatars (without legs), and ended up in a small virtual office a few weeks later.

It was a fun experiment, and I think it worked pretty well. There were some slight issues with people getting motion sickness in the headsets, but meeting in a virtual office space helped the group to somehow feel closer together. We were even able to play games and just casually catch up outside of the set program. While it was certainly no substitute for a real-life offsite, it was super fun.
— Steve, Design Lead

So, although everyone now can play Beat Saber in their free time, virtual was out, and it was time to meet in person.

Vienna: first offsite after the pandemic with schnitzel and art

For many of the team members, this was the first time they were going to meet with us in person. Since it was also the first real-life offsite, no one knew what kind of energy would be in the room. Would this be a super formal setting with overly professional meetings? Would there be super detailed strategizing plans? It was all pretty much up in the air.

Instead, the day was packed with sessions and activities around the city. The sessions highlighted the amazing things each team was accomplishing along with their priorities and strategies over the next year, which was really exciting because we were preparing to launch our product to market the next year in 2021.

It was insightful to see how the job descriptions of various operations leaders contain the same elements. Automation is at the core of their mission, and we help them to succeed.
— Tassilo, COO

We learned a lot about the growth and product strategies while catching up on all the topics we didn’t have time for before. The best part was during the breaks when Tassilo, our COO, showed us around the city and took us to a modern art museum one afternoon and then to a local winery.

Barcelona: purpose, tapas, and enjoying the sun

To anyone who is about to join the Next Matter team or joined after Barcelona, you might have heard about the miracles that happened in Spain. Even though it was raining for a bit, the atmosphere was perfectly set up for connection.

Barcelona, for me, was the moment where I got so deeply connected to the other team members. I would have never expected that. Not in my entire life. And, to have a work environment for that connection to thrive? With people much younger than I am? It's incredible. I call them friends now. They're not just my team members. We're friends.
— Dagmar, Office Manager

We connected through a storytelling activity where we told each other something from our lives that has stuck with us. These stories included something that you’ve never told a colleague before or something formative that changed your perspective on something. The stories were emotional and touching. Some people even had tears during the session because we were able to open ourselves up and be vulnerable in front of the team, which was a unique experience. 

Not only was there a connection between team members during the offsite, but there was also a purpose. A coach helped us define what that purpose was going to be. We started by talking about our personal purposes and building on that to figure out what purposes and goals we wanted to pursue as Next Matter.

The coaching helped me define my personal purpose at Next Matter, which was automating things in companies and helping them save time on repetitive tasks that are unfulfilling. You can think of it as the work you have to do, but it's quite boring. Our goal is to create automation in the boring processes to give people more time to be creative and work on much more complex things. Things that require innovation and problem-solving skills. Next Matter's purpose is to enable people to do work that's more fulfilling by taking away things like emails. For me, that was an important discovery.
— Manana, Engineering Team Lead

Berlin: food, history, and defining our values

After our Series A funding round, we were able to hire for some key roles and welcome 5 new team members during the offsite in Berlin, which meant we had a larger group and a lot more planning to do for the future.

So, with our new batch of friends, we were able to enjoy our fourth and latest offsite. Berlin in October is pretty unpredictable weather-wise, but we got lucky, and it was sunny the entire time. That meant during the session, we were able to leave the hotel and go for a walk. People even went for long walks during the scheduled free time to see a bit more of the city. 

We learned a lot from the three previous offsites, so Berlin was just implementing a combination of that knowledge. We had sessions to add structure while also allowing free time for people to rest since talking about values and seeing people when you’re used to working in a remote setting can be really exhausting. We also went to a nice restaurant with drinks instead of going to several beer gardens to make sure we weren’t overdoing it with activities. This time, the hotel also prepared the food - it was delicious and locally sourced, which made it feel like a unique experience. 

Of course, the offsite was structured in a similar way to Barcelona’s because we had our coach back. After helping the team connect on such a deep level, we knew that he could help us discover what our values would be.

We went through a couple of exercises where we had to first describe our personal values, followed by the ones that we felt matched the Next Matter team. We were each given a list of keywords that we could refer to if we needed it. The entire team naturally gravitated toward a cluster of about 8-10 very specific values. It was really inspiring for me to see how aligned the team was - even those who had recently joined.
— Steve, Design Lead

Coaching sessions

The offsite in Berlin wasn’t just organized well, but the coaching sessions were some of the most productive we’ve had. During three of the four days, we began to define our personal values and turn them into the values we live at Next Matter. You might have joined a company where values were created by a few people in the team and not in a collaborative setting. That’s the opposite of how we envisioned things happening, so we decided to tackle this topic during the offsite.

My feedback and my opinions are really taken into account in Next Matter. I even have seen some of my feedback directly implemented, which helps me feel like I am partially shaping the company. Also, we have a real impact on our clients because we are building a product that actually makes sense and matters to people. It's because of this that I feel that I am really fulfilling the value of impact, which is one of my personal values, by working here.
— Manana, Engineering Team Lead

Our values: caring, quality, impact, integrity, collaboration

When we announced the values through several days of coaching and collaboration, everyone applauded because each one of us could see ourselves represented. These are personal values that each member of the team holds dear and brings with them into the professional world. Because of our structured hiring process, we were able to grow the team with people who also felt this way, which is why it was fun to see clusters of values already forming on the first day without prior discussion.

You know, most people don't think about their values on a daily basis, and being able to do so reminded me why I feel so good working here. I know I'm in the right place, and Next Matter helps me to live these values. Realizing that was a very inspiring moment for me.
— Manana, Engineering Team Lead

These might not be the values you’d expect when joining a team (or the buzzword-y ones currently floating around some companies), but they’re ours, and we want to share them with everyone else who joins the team afterward.

Everyone got to contribute to the values and speak their mind, which is extremely important. I felt very happy seeing the values on the board once they were announced, and I agree with all of them. Before they were finalized, we also had an additional round where we could actually look at the proposal as a kind of synthesis, and all got to give input or challenge a couple of things, so it was co-creative throughout the entire process.
— Dagmar, Office Manager

To future Next Matter team members

Welcome (and if you’re applying and have read this entire article, then we wish you the best of luck and are glad that you see yourself reflected in our journey). It has taken us 4 years to get here, which has allowed us to get the foundation right. 

We want to let you know that these values came from our hearts, and these are things we live every day when speaking with one another as well as when we communicate with customers, or even when it comes to evaluating our work and the work of others. They’re our routines and something we’re constantly aware of. 

When you join, feel free to ask anyone on the team about the offsites, and you’re sure to get a different answer since each person developed different personal values and different personal purposes that help guide us to our goals. 

You'll live your values with us as well, and we’re super excited to take you on this journey. 

See our open positions.


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About the author
Elisabeth Wagner is the People Lead at Next Matter and excited to create a great work environment for people with diverse background and experiences. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her family and in the science communication community.

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