Building Team Culture IRL with a Design Retreat to New Orleans

I grew up on the computer. Through late elementary school, middle school, and high school I was always told to go offline because I was spending too much time online. What would I do when I’m out of school? I can’t just be on the computer all day, I’d never learn to interact with real people.

The COVID pandemic seemed to change everything. I started graduate school online, and my day job changed to remote. I transitioned from a fully in-person job to temporarily remote, then hybrid. After we started going back into the office, I couldn’t concentrate. I yearned to be at home working from the comfort of my home.

I looked for opportunities that would allow me to do so. In November 2021, my path led me to be an Associate User Interface (UI) Designer with Oomph. This was the first role I had that I had onboarded virtually, for a fully remote position. I was nervous to make friends. I had often relied on my sassy off-beat sense of humor in person to find my crowd. How was I going to do that in a virtual environment?

Our design team was small and consisted of J. Hogue, Renáta Miles, and Akili Greer. J. had been with Oomph for about 10 years, while Renáta first started work as a freelancer and then joined full-time for 6 years. In September of 2021, Akili — who had also started as a freelancer — joined full-time. Then I joined in November, and we added Ashley Estes a few weeks after me. That was a lot of growth in a short amount of time. Oomph encourages and supports meeting your team in person, so we decided to make it happen before COVID-19 infection rates started to soar again.

Our team started to research places that were in the middle of all of us. We were scattered across the county: two in Arizona, one in North Carolina, one in New Jersey, and one in Rhode Island. We booked the tickets with the help of our Operations & Finance Manager, Jana Aubin (thanks Jana!). Renáta found an AirBnB and created a grocery list while I planned a presentation of activities for our get-together. We designed t-shirts for our trip: black matte on black T-shirts (subtle, but cool). We determined goals for our trip, decided what projects to work on, and started our journey to figure out what makes the design team different.

Car selfie to kick off our trip!

We embarked on our four-day trip at the end of January 2022. As I walked off my plane, Renáta jumped for joy as she met me at my gate. We walked together to our group who had just arrived. I forgot to even think about how tall everyone was! We hugged and happily made our way into the airport lobby, a live jazz band played as we strolled through. We made our way to an Uber to get to our AirBnB. We were chatting away and full of energy.

We made it to our destination: the two-floored home was huge and it felt like we were tiny among the giant open ceilings. We picked our rooms, got our groceries delivered, and tried some of Gus’ Famous Chicken that was located down the street. Later that night, we walked from our Airbnb to Pat O’Briens, the home of the Hurricane cocktail. We sat outside, were given plastic beads (very New Orleans), and were able to dine and get to know how everyone interacted. We cheered and drank to the trip and to the future.

Our first night at Pat O’ Briens with the famous Hurricianes!

The next morning, we were able to have some breakfast and sit around our large dinner table to get some work done. Later in the day, we indulged in New Orleans culture and food with a Food-Walking tour, which included sights such as: Tchoupitoulas Street (CHOP-a-too-lis), French Quarter, Jackson Square, French Market, and Bourbon Street.

NOLA Poboy’s on Bourban Street

We learned about the top cuisine for locals, the history of some of the buildings and streets, the origin of the Mardi Gras colors, and the original meaning of voodoo1 dolls. After the tour, it started raining, and we visited a Voodoo shop for some souvenirs and the Pride store on Bourban Street. We stopped at another gift shop, and even at the famous Café du Monde to get some boxes to make beignets at home. My arms were heavy with all of my treasures, and my feet hurt from all the walking. I hadn’t moved around that much since pre-pandemic. When we got back to our AirBnB, we were tuckered out!

That night, we talked about what makes us unique as a team. We brainstormed ideas for team names, ideated different designs for logos, and spent the night chatting away about who we were and how we could define ourselves. We decided on Team Vantage for our new name. We thought about it in three ways: Perspective, “Point of view” as in a vantage point, and advantage. Our mission is to create clarity, drive excitement, and make the creative ideas of the client and project team tangible. Feeling accomplished, we went to sleep and passed out.

Our logo was designed by Akili Greer with collaboration from our team!

Tuesday started off similar to Monday, with breakfast and getting work done. We looked at current processes & ideated how we can improve for the better. Our newer teammates got an understanding of how the current process came to be. We were able to gather around one person’s computer for internal client meetings and talk to each other across the table about questions or findings. It felt surreal not to have to make a Zoom link to meet, call them up, or wait for a Slack message. The real-time collaboration felt special.

Hard at work 🙂

Later that night, we arrived at Cochon, a Cajun-style restaurant located down the street from our AirBnB. Our team went out to celebrate us, a successful trip, and the future. We walked around after to explore NOLA again for the last time as a team.

We arrived at the airport the early next morning and sat together, until one by one we left and parted ways. It was bittersweet, but we felt we grew because of the experience. As my plane took off, I reflected: Oomph supports us to grow together and supports us online and offline. Vantage became closer through quality time spent, which makes for more effective communication moving forward.

Time to go back home!

Before I knew it, we were back meeting again on Zoom, coffee in hand!

A Note on Names: Some scholars and practitioners prefer alternate spellings of Voodoo — such as Vodou, Vodon, Vodun or Vodu — in part to differentiate the religion from the stereotypes. Additionally, when used to refer to the religion itself, the word “Voodoo” is capitalized. For other uses, such as “voodoo dolls” or “voodoo economics,” it is not. Reference,



More about this author

Alyssa Varsanyi

UI Designer

I’m a User Interface Designer (UI) at Oomph, based in New Jersey but born and raised in upstate New York. I thrive in the creation process and am driven by a sincere curiosity and fascination with the intersection between design and data. I am unafraid to go against the grain to create meaningful, original outcomes that showcase delight. As a gender-nonconforming and neurodiverse person, I fiercely advocate for accessibility, inclusion, and empathy in everything I touch. Recently, I was honored to be named a "2024 Person to Watch" by Graphic Design USA Magazine (GDUSA).

I started my career as a graphic designer, then transitioned into a user interface designer with a high interest in user experience. In the summer of 2022, I earned a Master’s Degree in UX Design from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

I’m a foodie who loves to travel and play tennis. In my downtime, you can find me listening to the same few Broadway soundtracks on repeat, creating art, and playing video games.