Alpine Air and Agile Minds: HappyPorch's Retreat in the Austrian Mountains
In November, the HappyPorch team packed our woolly hats and headed to the Austrian Alps for our second meetup of 2023. Our destination was Brixen im Thale - a ski resort town nestled away in the snowy mountains. The peace and quiet of the off-season made a lovely backdrop for our discussions and quality time together. The team had the run of an entire guest house, which we shared with some equine friends in the attached stables. The in-built alarm clock of hungry horses was certainly a unique way to wake up in time for our morning meeting!
The whole team made an effort to travel to this meetup over land, wherever possible. From the 13 team members attending, 9 of us were able to avoid flying - a significant improvement from our last meetup. Through mindfully choosing our meetup locations, we aim to enable as many of the team as possible to travel overland and minimise our collective carbon emissions.
However, by prioritising ‘slower travel’ and public transport when possible, many of us had interesting experiences while travelling out to the mountains - some more relaxing than others. From an evening exploring Vienna, chilling out on very delayed sleeper trains, to an unscheduled voyage all over Europe, everyone who could come managed to make it in one piece. Some might call them travel mishaps, delays, etcetera - but I reckon the Happyporch team prefers to see them as bonus adventures. It was all for the good cause of minimising the environmental impact of our travel, after all!
We decided to move away from the 2-a-day meeting schedule, instead opting for one focused session a day. This was to allow for more time and energy for impromptu collaboration, co-working and spending time with each other in a less structured, more fluid context. We also had more active sessions in which we undertook research and explored potential projects or ideas in small groups. This definitely felt like a shift in the way we utilise the time we have together, and it was wonderful to see the team’s diverse minds and varied skills in action. It felt really energising to be involved in such bursts of creativity.
As always, our time together wasn’t focused solely on work, work, work. We managed to find plenty of ways to enjoy our downtime despite the sleepy off-season within the town. Many of the team took the opportunity to go on a hiking adventure in the mountains. With the power of a good few snack breaks, the whole group made it up the mountain and back down again unfrozen, despite getting a bit lost somewhere in the middle. We weren't banking on the snow getting progressively deeper as we ascended, and some of us found ourselves knee deep by the time we reached the top. We felt like very intrepid adventurers as we found our own path back down the mountain. We quite literally had to follow in each other's footsteps in the snow - it was so deep we could hardly walk through it at points! Regardless of the wet feet and chilly knees, it is always a special experience to be out in nature with those who you normally see through a screen.
The weather got progressively less friendly as the week went on. As much as the hike was great fun, we opted for finding warmer, more indoorsy ways to pass the time for the most part. Ondrej’s board game collection proved to be a hit once again and the more hardcore gamers amongst us partook in a cutthroat game of Dune - as is becoming a bit of a meetup tradition. We also played a more relaxed game of Dixit. The game is played by someone giving a clue to their picture card and the rest trying to guess the card while adding their own that matches the clue. It's a game of association and individual perception of the illustrations and it made for a really interesting chance to see things through each other’s eyes - especially as our work doesn’t often require this kind of abstract visual thinking.
As there wasn't much nightlife in the town, we created our own. Between delicious, diverse meals cooked by various HappyPorchers, Jana’s fabulous pub quiz, and Maxence’s ingenious idea of bringing DJ equipment, we had our very own restaurant, bar and nightclub all rolled into one. Who knew there were so many DJs among us? It’s always fun to see all the different ways we express creativity outside of work - it was such a fun atmosphere to be a part of!
Seeing everyone in person after months of Zoom calls and messaging on Slack was fantastic as always. It's incredible how quickly we acclimate to living together in one big house for a week. The scheduling for this meetup was a little more experimental and I personally noticed how much freedom the extra time gave in terms of working together, sharing skills and letting our creativity run free. It felt like we gained a lot of value from the more intensive discussion periods, too, generating a plethora of interesting new ideas and avenues to explore further. The remote location and closeness to nature of this meetup felt like a chance to slow down and reconnect with our values as a company and as individuals. To be able to be experimental and curious, while undeniably focused on our collective goal to do better for our planet encapsulates that which makes the HappyPorch team so strong. This meetup was a blast of fresh (Alpine) air and I look forward to the next, as always.