The secret sauce of global gatherings

Written by
Hannah Mazonson

Why Daylight believes so passionately in putting all work on pause to travel the globe and connect as humans.

It was two weeks before graduation when I received the news – ”Daylight would love for you to join our San Francisco studio!” Thrilled to have this opportunity coming out of design school and anxious about my foray into “adulthood,” I was nervous to ask for a delayed start date due to existing personal plans.

My family and I were slated to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in late July. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip I didn’t want to miss, but I was willing to give it up to have the opportunity to work at Daylight. Upon mustering the courage to ask for my ideal start date, the studio lead gave me the thumbs up: 

“Starting in August is no problem at all; let’s just make sure you are here by the week of September 10th,” he said. “Everyone at Daylight will be gathering in Munich then for our annual offsite. It’s an inspirational bonding experience that you wouldn’t want to miss.”

Munich? Annual offsite? Inspirational bonding experience?

As a kid who definitely peaked as a camp counselor, baiting me with the words “inspirational bonding experience” in a faraway metropolis caught me hook, line, and sinker. 

Three months later I was in the Daylight SF office for the first time. Three weeks after that, I was on a flight to Germany to unite with my colleagues from across the world.

Community over content

Describing our global gatherings as “annual company offsites,” while technically accurate, is wildly inadequate. The prevailing mental model for an event of this sort is that of a badly-lit hotel conference room and a marathon of powerpoint, punctuated by half-baked trust exercises. 

Uninspiring, at best.

Our one-week gatherings in the Bay Area, Bavaria, or South Korea - homes to our three Daylight offices - are less like corporate convenings and more like big family reunions or road trips with good friends. There are late night stories over weissbier, cross-cultural cooking mashups in the kitchen, and caravans of cars heading for adventures. While we typically dedicate a day or two to sharing our best work with one another, talking through the challenges and successes of the past year, and envisioning upcoming projects, the majority of our time together is pure fun: cooking grand feasts, exploring new streets, and relishing in the company of our company. We wander in ancient Korean villages, listen to trumpeters play over Lake Konigssee, hike the Alps and the Sierras, and form and rekindle friendships in an honest, jubilant way. For all of that I am eternally grateful.

Not perks for perks’ sake

Living in the Bay Area, I am hyper-aware of the world of tech giants that ooze “perks.” Gym memberships, gourmet meals, bean bags, kombucha on tap…you name it, they’ll give it. As a small design agency committed to social impact, Daylight can’t shower team members with such luxuries. And yet, many of the people I know who take part in Big Tech are also the first to admit that my offsite experiences make them green with envy. 

The value of the Daylight global gathering runs counter to the average corporate perk because it isn’t motivated by a top-down need for artificial camaraderie or a subversive attempt at employee retention. For many years Daylight has recruited top talent while staying small and familial by choice, and the effusiveness of our offsite is a testament to that approach. We genuinely enjoy traveling the world together and learning new skills from one another. We eagerly await seeing familiar faces year after year and welcoming new Daylighters with open arms. Our global gathering allows us to connect beyond the Slack channel or the Figma artboard, and it serves as a glowing example of how effective designers can be when designing for themselves. Each office gets a turn at planning the offsite in their home country every third year, and the energy and unity we consistently muster is unique to our Daylight community.

Rejuvenating the soul of the organization

As consultants, so much of what we do is in the service of others. We work tirelessly to create apps that help low-income families in the Bay Area retain their Section 8 housing eligibility or tinker late into the evening on digital platforms that encourage new parents to talk to their children from birth. 

And in truth, this work can be exhausting at times. While PTO can fulfill one’s personal needs for separation of work and life, few organizations offer an opportunity that truly replenishes the energy of the collective, that rejuvenates the soul of the organization, that reminds you why you are here and why you matter. The Daylight global offsite emerged not merely as an antidote to the demands of our work, but also as an opportunity to propel us through the coming year with newfound energy and enthusiasm. When we come together, we reinvigorate ourselves and our workmanship. We rekindle international relationships and friendships that can fuel our collaborative efforts on upcoming projects. We mindmeld on ideas or challenges we’ve had in the past year and envision new support systems for ourselves and for our teams.

Intentional connection

In times where organizations increasingly work in remote or distributed ways, connecting intentionally feels more important than ever. For Daylight, dropping everything for a week, traveling the globe, and bonding as people is something that feeds us.

We come together in a way that feels authentic and productive because it is, above all else, human.

If you are part of a distributed team, what might you explore in the future to foster such human connections? And if you’re a designer interested in Daylight, do you have your passport ready?

Illustrations by Johanna Gieseler

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