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How our remote team spent a week in Porto together

From strategic brainstorming sessions to river cruises and karaoke — meetups are a special time of year

We’re big fans of remote work at Sketch. In fact, we’ve never had an office in the 10+ years we’ve existed. It’s how we’ve been able to build a team of talented people regardless of where they live. It also means we uphold freedom and trust as core company values.

That said, we also deeply value the chance to meet in person. That’s why this year — after two years of waiting for a safer time to travel — we were thrilled to resume an important company tradition: our annual meetups.

It’s a chance to have in-person conversations, bond with our teammates and take a break from our everyday work settings. This year, we spent a week in Porto, Portugal. And it was a blast.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to work at Sketch — or you’re thinking of starting meetups at your own remote company — we’re psyched to share more about our week in Porto.

What it was like meeting in person

About 150 of us made it to Porto in June. That’s a lot of people to meet in just a few days. Some of us had met before and were excited to catch up. But for many of us, it was the first time being in the same room together. And while we collaborate on all kinds of projects over messages and video calls every day, this was a different experience.

We knew each other’s names, recognized some faces and had shared lots of laughs over Slack. But we hadn’t all shared a lunch break together or even grabbed coffee. It felt somewhere between being at a big family reunion and meeting celebrities — comforting yet surreal.

Most of all, it took our team spirit to a new level. Our head of customer support, Sandra Gutierrez de Teran Santos really appreciated the chance to meet in person. “This week has been amazing, it’s been super productive and has over-exceeded my expectations,” she shared. “The fact that I could meet my team after two years of working in Sketch — not only my team but everyone in the company — made it amazing.”

Elena Marinova, our campaigns coordinator, especially enjoyed getting to experience the human side of our digitally-run team. “Being able to see the awesome people behind the Slack pictures and truly connect — not only on a professional but also a personal level — was absolutely amazing,” she shared.

An image of someone taking a team photo during Sketchs annual company meetup in Porto.

Being a fully remote team means we don’t often get to take group photos. So we made sure to capture our time together in Porto!

How we spent our time together

We had a busy yet exciting few days ahead of us. And to kick things off, the first day began with a company-wide welcome session — with presentations from our CEOs, Pieter Omvlee and Emanuel Sá, our COO Matt Langdon and our CMO Carly Marsh. We thought a lot about our business — where we’d been and where we wanted to go. It also gave us a chance to discuss (and get excited about!) the plans we have for Sketch in 2022 and beyond — trust us when we say there’s a lot of cool stuff to come.

While we’re proud of our asynchronous approach to work, that first morning in Porto gave us the chance to get on the same page quickly.

The rest of the week was split between breakout sessions and team bonding activities. We continued working, but in smaller groups — whether we were brainstorming ways to improve our onboarding experience or coming up with new ideas altogether.

To unwind from work, we got to be tourists. The marketing team, for one, got to attend an Azulejo workshop, carving patterns onto ceramic tiles — a form of art Portugal’s famous for. And of course, no trip to Porto would be complete without Port wine tasting or a cruise along the Douro River — something we got to experience together as a company.

By the end of the week, not only had we gotten to know each other better but we also made countless inside jokes to look back on. We even had several new custom emojis to take back to Slack — a huge part of what keeps our remote culture alive.

An image of the Douro River taken during Sketchs annual company meetup in Porto.

A trip to Porto isnt complete without a cruise along the Douro River — something we got to enjoy together.

Remembering that we’re all human

We’ve been doing these meetups for years — and we’ve always had a business agenda. But each time we come together, we’re reminded that it’s about so much more than getting to chat about work in person and having a few laughs along the way.

As our design manager Jonne Omvlee puts it, “The face-to-face experience of the meet-up works perfectly with how we operate. Working remotely has the benefit of being able to play with ideas and explore them without too many distractions while meeting each other physically feeds these ideas and inspires us to push them further.”

Our brand storyteller Harvey Butterfield agrees: “It just kind of brings home how good the people at Sketch are.”

Being a remote team means we usually talk to each other from behind a screen. And we do our best to make sure our interactions aren’t all about work. Together with our strong emoji culture, we also have plenty of Slack channels people can join out of interest — including channels about pets, plants, food, video games — and even dad jokes.

Having these spaces makes it easier to be ourselves with each other online. But we can still miss out on each other’s human moments. For example, we don’t always know what our teammates eat for lunch or whether they listen to Britney Spears while working. So our meetups not only bring our interactions to life but also paint us a clearer picture of the people we work with every day.

“Some people you think are one way turn out to be very different — we read a lot into people’s written words that may not be there,” says Pieter. “It’s tremendously helpful to learn the person behind the Slack handle — their way of talking, their sense of humor. We always find we work better together as a team post-meet-up because people have gotten to know each other more.”

So whether we were playing a game of tug of war or singing our hearts out at karaoke, we got to feel closer than before — even as we flew back to our desks around the world. And that makes us better collaborators — on the many exciting things we have in store and even on where we’ll be going next year 👀.

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