Cotopaxi’s New ‘Summer Camp’ Helps Employees Bond and Collaborate
After transitioning to a remote-first work model, Cotopaxi devised a new way for team members to meet in person: a camping retreat with hiking and climbing, team games, and storytelling sessions
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Cotopaxi is known for taking excellent care of its employees. In addition to all the usual benefits offered by most forward-thinking, mission-driven companies—generous maternity leaves, comprehensive healthcare, and the like—the company treats its workers to perks like $1,000 “bucket list” stipends to be used for personal travel. At this Salt Lake City-based brand, people come first.
So it makes sense that, when the pandemic inspired the company to shift permanently to a remote-first work model, leadership was concerned about losing some of the business’s warmth and community feel.
“After more than a year of working remotely, we discovered how amazingly well people were doing in terms of happiness and productivity, mental health, and connection with families,” said Stephan Jacob, one of the company’s founders and COO. “We made the decision to become a remote-first company, but we still believe firmly in the concept of interacting in person.”
Jacob said leadership wrestled for a while with methods for bringing employees together to foster connection. Eventually, they started thinking about hikes and campouts the company had organized when it was smaller—just a few employees working to build the brand.
“We decided to recreate that idea with an employee summer camp,” Jacob said. “We rented a group campsite in Big Cottonwood Canyon [outside Salt Lake City]. We camped overnight and organized activities throughout the day. There was climbing, hiking, a Cotopaxi values session, and a story session at night. We put on a Llama-lympics [after the company’s mascot] where people broke into teams playful and competed in silly, fun challenges where they could bring their whole selves.”
Company co-founder Davis Smith said about 70 people participated, out of roughly 120 employed by Cotopaxi across the country. “Many of our store employees are part-time and live outside of Utah, so we had very high participation,” Smith said.
The format of the trip, which took place July 11-13, was relatively informal. Everyone brought their own gear, or borrowed equipment from the company’s communal gear closet in Salt Lake. There was a carefully balanced mix of structured activity and down time. Brand leaders wanted to make sure employees had enough time to chill and get to know each other, according to Jacob. “We had several employees who had been working together for over a year who had never met in person,” he said. The event’s main objective was to change that.
“We had to find the right balance between structured activities and giving people the opportunity to engage naturally and talk,” said Jacob. “At an event like this, there shouldn’t be activities from 8 in the morning to 5 at night. People need to be able to get to know each other organically.”
He said that feedback from the first summer camp was uniformly positive, but that next time participants want to be more involved in the planning. In the next iteration, the company plans to let employees take responsibility for certain aspects of the trip, like meal prep. Jacob said the company might also increase the frequency of the camp to include a winter retreat.
“There were so many wonderful moments of togetherness,” Jacob said. “Over and over again, employees asked us, ‘Can we do more of this?’ We plan to.”