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What we owe a cardboard cut-out.

Musings from a Director, HR ///

Once again, I find myself back home after a wildly successful company retreat in the Smokey Mountains. I revel in knowing that every detail went according to plan: the water-sliding, picnicking, rock-wall-climbing, local watering-hole touring (and tasting!)—even the weather was divine.

For almost three days, our work family became our play family, with their own real families in tow. It was impossible to not feel grateful in the present when those we cared about most were present. Well, almost everyone.

Try as we plan, conflicts do arise. And for the first year, ever, 100% of our team wasn’t able to attend. Of course it’s understandable: As amazing as our annual retreat is, it can’t compete with being a bridesmaid in a cousin’s wedding or, say, a wife’s third trimester.

And yet, being together without wholly being together didn’t feel right. How could we ensure that our cohesiveness prevailed? What gesture could reinforce our modus operandi of inclusion? In short: How do we make these team members still feel like part of the group?

And then it hit us: cardboard cut-outs. Yup. Cheesy as it may have been, when my planning partner and I busted out those life-size corrugated posters of our three missing colleagues, joy erupted. Olivia, Reem and Dan were all wearing our retreat swag and loving grins that said, “We’re here! Party on!”

Those cut-outs came with us everywhere: Shopping in the local town. Lakeside at the fishing tournament. Even fireside for our Murder Mystery. And they represented the dedication of those who were with us in spirit. The behind-the-scenes overnight shipping of themed t-shirts. The multiple photo sessions to get just the right lighting. The ability to temper their FOMO as much as we possibly could.

In the end, we know that no craft-project-on-a-post can substitute for the real people we adore. But it sure did make for fabulous pictures. And brought us all together more than we ever could have hoped.

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