A Collaborative and Data-driven Approach to Meetup Planning

Business Operations Manager
8 min read

Organizing our two-day annual meetup is an evergreen project for our operations team. Each team member carries parts of it forward to ensure smooth, continual progress. Whilst it's the ops team who drive the planning of our annual meets, every team member across departments contributes to and plays an important role in the execution and success of our meetups. For example, our designer Mariana contributes by handling the branding for the meetup, which includes designing slide decks, internal communication materials, and swag design.

The feedback from the team is particularly valuable in ensuring the ongoing success of our meetups. We collect a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to measure the impact of our meetups on fostering innovation and building relational capital.

Relational capital in people ops is about strong relationships within the individuals of a company that fosters belonging and teamwork. It boosts resilience, safety, and innovation, making it a key metric for a modern people ops team.

This year's meetup used data from multiple operations sources to make continuous improvement from last year, aligning with one of our Float values. It was a tremendous success!

Gathering team sentiment

Early in 2023 we kicked off a perks and benefits survey to dig deeper into finding out what our team members really care about. We wanted to know what perks and benefits caught their attention during the application process and what ended up being the most valuable to them after joining our team.

Sharing the results of our P&B survey with the team in May, 2023

Guess what we found? The annual meetup is one of our highest-ranking perks that attracted top-talent applicants! It was still highly valued by new hires even after they settled into their roles, and was top-ranked by seasoned team members who have attended meetups before. So, the long and short is that the meetup is rated as our top perk for both new and seasoned team members, demonstrating the incredible value of connecting in person to forge and develop relationships.

After each meetup we do a washup survey that is designed to draw out sentiment from the team's experience both leading up to and during the event. We ask questions about how well prepared folks felt in terms of knowing what to expect in the country the meetup is in, how to get around, the quality of the food and activities (we are all huge foodies so food is always an important topic for us 🤤) . We also ask about the conference content, "Did you find anything compelling or insightful? Anything seem irrelevant or hard to understand?Anything seemed missing that you would have liked to hear more about?" and then, of course, we ask “What did you think about the Swag?”.

Last year's meetup swag was rated highly, but our 2023 Osaka meetup swag scored even higher!

We also ask about the social time and how inclusive things felt by asking direct questions like “How did you like the Q&A format” and "We don't have many in-person meetings and want to make sure that we use our IRL time together to forge social connections. How can we improve this aspect of our meetup?”. If folks score below the halfway threshold, we include follow-up questions like, “You've got ideas! Let's hear how you think we could improve our activity planning?”.

The day before our official meetup started, Float organized an optional boat ride for team members and their families.

Another key way that we gather team sentiment is by utilizing our internal communication channels, primarily Slack and Loom, for non-invasive social listening. This approach enables us to monitor organic engagement and gather authentic feedback from our team by gaining insights into their interests, concerns, and ideas. For example, in this year's Slack channel, there was a lot of open discussion about navigating Japan's complex rail system and purchasing JR passes! This intel helped us with making the decision to hire a bus and tour guide for our day two excursion.

The bus was definitely a more comfortable option for everyone
And meant that no one was left behind with small delays departure times!

Next, crunching the numbers

Okay, so I have to admit that I love spreadsheets. I strongly believe that the work of people operations is grounded in social science and is best informed by data. So, while team sentiment is by far the most meaningful aspect of our data gathering process, it is made stronger by quantitative data. This data comes from crunching numbers to measure engagement across meetup attendance and survey participation rates, and seeing where we landed overall in terms of our forecast vs. actual costs.

To track our forecast vs. actuals, we set up a Google sheets workbook, the 'Budget Tracker'. We begin with sourcing the location, which is a more rigorous process that you might think (here's why)! To start, we list where each team member is located and how many hours it will take for them to fly to said location. This process is done many times as all nominated locations are thoroughly vetted. After that work is done, we look at our previous year's costs, inflation rates, and location-specific nuances that we feel will affect pricing. This includes things such as hotel availabilities, local holidays, transportation infrastructure, and food costs. All of this is carefully analyzed until we agree on a location that meets our needs and falls within a our budget. After this, the tracker becomes more robust with tabs being added to forecast per head, and then of course, as the payables start rolling in, listing the actuals. Keeping a close eye on the costs in relation to the percentage of bookings made is critical. It ensures we have a more accurate understanding of where we are at with booked flights, room allocations, restaurant reservations, and activity bookings.

Knowing these details upfront is also essential for our team traveling with family, especially little ones! Read Emily's meetup experience with a young baby.
Each department has their own group dinner booked for the first night. Here's the product team about to enjoy their teppanyaki!

Synthesising and housing the data 💽

It's great to collect lots of data—but the fun (yes, fun) part is how we draw insights from it! For the washup survey, we produce a post meetup report with the results shared with everyone in the team. We summarize the sentiment using a thematic analysis to group words and phrases together, that produces patterns of meaning. The report is then organised into three main actionable categories:

  1. Keep ❤️
  2. Kill 🙈
  3. Opportunities ✨.

We make sure to highlight engagement rates, which we are proud to say for our 2023 meetup was: 96% attendance and 91% survey participation rate—both up by 3% YoY. The report is shared for transparency as well as showcasing to everyone how important and valued their feedback is.

As an evergreen project, the meetup is a project that we're constantly working on and is a regular topic in our team syncs. So basically, as soon as the meetup is over, we're already rolling into planning the next one. 2024, we're coming for ya!

Putting insights and learnings into action

One of the things I value most about working at Float is low bureaucracy, lots of context, and most importantly the freedom to go! 🚀 It's what empowers us to be a nimble and responsive team.

We lean on the insights we gain from feedback and data each year—to inform the next. Here are some examples of how we used last year's feedback to make decisions in 2023, and what we're thinking about next:

Folks like a unique location

We learned this in Chamonix, France, and we delivered again in Osaka, Japan. The insight has been that unique locations inspire and rejuvenate the team!

Everyone was excited and energized that our 2023 meetup was in Japan!

Social activities are essential agenda items

Some of the most meaningful aspects of the entire meetup are when we eat and play together. This isn't surprising given we know that what the team wants most is opportunities to connect and build relationships. So in other words, leisure time and social activities are non-negotiable!

Exploring the bamboo forest on our day two excursion in Kyoto

Lightning talks make topics more accessible and engaging

We learned in 2022 that lengthy technical presentations aren't enjoyable for everyone. This might seem like an obvious insight, but if you're speaking about an area you specialize in or are passionate about, it can be hard to recognize! Instead, lightning talks (short 15-minute presentations) are preferred because they're easier to digest and participate in.

Colin set the bar for how many data analytics memes can fit into one lightning talk!

Supporting keynote presentation speakers

What's the best way to know if your presentation is too technical? Have someone look over it! This year all of the speakers were across each others' talks and we created a resource centre to provide guidance on creating memorable presentations that are conversational in nature.

Before the meetup, we promoted asynchronous practice using tools like Loom and provided remote 1:1 feedback. We also offered a dry run the day before the conference with in-person feedback to ensure concise, powerful presentations limited to 5 minutes. We aimed to avoid department-specific jargon and excessive text or graphs so we could capture the feel of a longer lightning talk—which we know from 2022 data is a hit!

Speaker diversity is important

Surprise, surprise, the team doesn't want to always hear from the same people! This year, of our 16 presenters, half were not department leads. This inclusivity extended to both the conference itself, and our async content library.

Director of Marketing Siobhan co-presenting with Sales Account Executive Quang

Facilitate connections, before you meet!

Meeting your coworkers in-person for the first time or once a year can be kinda awkward! Our Talent and Experience Coordinator Romina ran a "People of Float" podcast that captured 15-minute interviews with people across the team. The podcast specifically supported the meetup and making interactions less awkward, by providing conversation starters. It was a "remote ice-breaker" and released in batches in the lead-up to our team heading off on their travels.

The People of Float podcast was a wonderful way to get to know everyone on the team a bit more... async too!

Keep the vibe going

Our async content library had meetup presentations uploaded after the event and has been a great way for us to share the recent meetup topics with new hires and the folks who couldn't make it to the meetup.

Making the most of our time... in Japan 🇯🇵

Finally, the location... Japan. "Sigh." It is such an amazing country. We encouraged our team members to work nomadically in the country before or after the meetup, and/or to make the most of their PTO to fully explore the beautiful country. With many of us taking full advantage of the opportunity, one of our team members even got engaged in Kyoto (talk about inspiring)! Osaka definitely hit the “locations that inspire us” mark 🎯 and we're already excited about what's to come in 2024.

Are you curious about what a 40+ people all-team company meetup looks like? Check out the highlights reel of our 2023 meet in Japan.

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