Giant Machines has taken an annual company boat trip around Manhattan on the Hudson River since 2017. As the company grew, the world shifted during the pandemic, and our employees’ locations diversified, the plans changed. What started out as a sailing trip migrated to a Zoom meeting in 2020, and this year, our 100-person company was too big for a sailboat—so we rode a yacht instead.
An elevated New York experience
The inaugural Giant Machines week took place in the fall of 2022, with everyone just finding comfort in a post-pandemic world. This primed the team with anticipation for 2023’s Giant Machines week (internally dubbed GM Week).
We met at our headquarters in the Financial District in late September, what many consider the best seasonal month for New York City weather. While we had sunshine for a few days, the week was capped off with heavy rain, floods, and a state of emergency.
The weather only furthered the importance of the week’s theme: Giant Machines’ dedication to climate tech, featuring a keynote speech from Climate Equity Collaborative’s Executive Director Justin J. Harris.
Noelia Dominguez, Giant Machines’ HR coordinator, who spearheaded the week’s planning and execution, just so happened to choose branded umbrellas as the swag employees left with.
“We chose umbrellas because of the climate tech theme, and the climate really made it seem like I had a crystal ball—or a meteorology degree,” says Noelia. “We were very lucky we were still able to make it on our yacht ride the night before the big storm, and more importantly, that everyone local was okay and that those traveling home to somewhere other than New York were able to do so safely.”
A celebration of community and culture
The company met at our office headquarters for part of the week, with a dedicated space at One World Trade Center for special events.
Between a Q3 All Hands meeting (where our Chief People Officer Sol Alberione wore the GM culture on her sleeve by donning a Beyoncé tee and matching sneakers), an unconscious bias training from Brooks E. Scott, and workshops around coding, consulting, and meditation, employees had many chances to learn, bond, and challenge their thinking.
Software Engineer Radiyah Sabur says the unconscious bias training was a refreshing departure from any similar training she’s previously attended, and in the best way possible.
“It captivated our attention with a fresh, productive, and relatable approach. The instructor’s method of providing prompts and creating a safe space for open, honest conversations was particularly valuable,” she says. “This training experience provided me with new perspectives and left me feeling invigorated and optimistic about the future.”
While most Giant Machines employees are based in and around New York City, where we work in a hybrid capacity, about a quarter of the company flew in from across the country and Canada for the week.
“Especially as a remote employee, there is just no substitute for the relational overlap that just happens naturally during GM Week,” says Lead Product Manager Mike Nowak “GM is a very human-centered organization in my experience, and time together, in person, eating together, laughing together, doing not-work things together is irreplaceable as a component of building and maintaining our culture.”
Outside of the company’s programmed events were some spontaneous celebrations, including Loatian lunches in Tribeca and late-night karaoke.
“My favorite part of the week had to be seeing my manager belt Whitney Houston at the top of his lungs,” Mike says. “Sadly I missed our founders Frank and Roy doing their rendition of Lauryn HIll’s ‘Killing me Softly.’”
The week brought people together who don’t normally work together, building bridges across teams and generations.
“Playing ping pong, chatting on the boat deck, or having a cocktail together was way beyond how my regular engagements go during a busy day at the office,” says Senior Program Manager Betty E. Schlicht. “I had numerous conversations with folks and got to know a more personal side of them. As an older member of our community, working with considerably younger colleagues has the potential to be awkward. Yet, it never is.”
Rounding out the week was the aforementioned annual boat ride, with views of the Statue of Liberty through clouds full of the city’s impending storm. That hardly stopped the team from enjoying the evening, with a DJ, a dance circle, and a conga line.
“Even though this was my first time experiencing GM Week, I had seen pictures and heard about the yacht during years prior,” says Product Designer Jason Rodriguez. “My expectation was it was going to be a fun ride around the water and some talking with light music. But the yacht was far beyond expectations.”
And for Operations Manager Aaron Bonner, the week was a nice reprieve from the typical work grind.
“While the days leading up to GM Week were extremely busy, it was great to see the entire organization engaged and enjoying all the different festivities,” he says. “Whether I was focused at our company All Hands or rocking out on the dance floor during our annual yacht ride, it was such a rewarding experience to reflect on all our hard work throughout the year.”