Last month, we held our annual WONE retreat. The Walking on Earth (WONE) team came together for 3 nights at the beautiful farm and nature reserve, 42 Acres. Why do we go on a retreat to get away from our daily routine and especially our work in order to find true meaning in our lives? We intentionally called it a retreat, rather than an offsite, to place the emphasis on finding that purpose and inspiration whilst at work, surrounded by our colleagues. We took it as an opportunity to introduce our RACE model, experimenting with a new blueprint for work that balances sprints with recovery. Too often at work events we come out feeling drained and depleted. Our ambition was to change that and to come out feeling collectively energised, with a renewed sense of inspiration. We experimented with bringing the retreat to work.
At the very core, we’re creating a new model of working. Because boy do we need it. The narrative we’ve normalised about how we work has created a sick nation. 83% of US workers suffer from work related stress, 2/3 have experienced burnout and the problem is only getting worse with 40% feeling burnt out during the pandemic. These results are startling, especially given that stress, when not addressed, doesn’t just impact our ability to function at our best, it leads to chronic disease. According to Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, workplace stress is the 5th leading cause of death in the US.
Introducing the race model
The pandemic placed health at work in the spotlight, taking us to the brink and showing us what happens when we burn out the global economy – a mental health epidemic at work, the Great Resignation and the more subtle but equally damaging trend of Quiet Quitting. We’re now entering a different crisis and we must take the lessons from the pandemic to sustain ourselves moving forward.
It requires taking a more nuanced understanding of stress and performance. To reverse the thinking that we have to work ourselves to the brink of a health crisis in order to achieve success. That’s why, at WONE, we’ve built our team around the principles of a sports team using the race model, where we balance run and recovery. We recognise that we’re a high growth tech company with big ambitions, and that hard work, single-minded determination and resilience are necessary ingredients for achieving our goals. But crucially, we also believe that balancing those periods of intensity with periods of recovery, is the missing and vital ingredient for unlocking long-lasting success. Whilst we so readily accept that to train for a race or a marathon, we must balance intense training with muscle recovery, we don’t apply the same logic when it comes to training our mind.
Reinventing the work off-site
Our annual WONE retreat provided an opportunity to do just that. We created a workspace with our colleagues that allowed us to be fully present, think big and make transformative discoveries by switching our minds into a recovery zone. We arrived at the farm with surprise welcome packs on our beds containing a framed photograph on our bedside table of an image that brings us comfort – our pets, family or friends as well as snacks, eyes masks, plants – the things that make us feel at home. We followed with a welcome circle to set the parameters of the retreat and outline the importance of setting this time aside, just once a year, to upend traditional working norms, spark playful creativity and connect on a deeper level. Many switched off their phones to totally immerse themselves in the experience. We accepted and embraced the fact that we’re driven individuals with high expectations and as part of that, things can get serious very quickly. And that’s why it’s so important to remind ourselves of the importance of bringing moments of playful creativity into work, so that we can enjoy the journey, be present and ultimately…. experience the miracle of walking on earth.
To that end, we split our time into thirds, between holistic health sessions, big picture strategy sessions and free time in nature. Our holistic health sessions consisted of breathwork, dance, sound healing and yoga led by different team members. Our brainstorm sessions again took us outside of our day to day to think about how we can realise our vision of creating a new model of health that is preventative. In our free time, we swam in the lake, went for walks, visited the farm and played games. We took ourselves out of our comfort zone, which, we recognised, was different for each person. For some, it was learning about the basic principles of AI, for others it was presenting their brainstorm findings to the group, sharing their personal journey into preventative health or sober dancing around the room.
Upending workplace norms
It was powerful to witness how being in nature, away from the BAU (business as usual) and participating in a retreat together could so drastically alter the way we view each other and the way we show up at work. It gave us permission to live our core value, authenticity, and bring our real selves to work without any boundaries. To me, it was proof that the model we’re preaching works. That balancing hard work with recovery drives team cohesion, fuels creative decision making, and enables us to approach the business with a new passion about what we’re doing and the people we’re surrounded by to do it with.
The experience also showed me the importance of experimenting with working norms. Of breaking the rules and creating a new system. Startups are meant to be about doing things differently, being lean, testing and iterating. We apply this framework when building our product but we still stick to the same business frameworks when it comes to our team culture. And we’ve taken it to breaking point. I believe those that innovate with not just what you do at work but how you work, are the companies that will set themselves apart during this crisis and come out stronger on the other side.
At WONE, we’re back from 42Acres and and are making a conscious effort to apply the principles of the retreat to work back in busy city life. We want to be living proof that businesses grow faster, sustain longer and achieve greater success when they place the health of their people first. By focusing on health and leading with our values, we are building the blueprint for the workplace of the future.