The Importance of In-Person Connection for a Statewide Program

Published On: July 26th, 2023

Reflections on the 2023 VMAP Partner Retreat

In a post-COVID, digitally-driven world, remote work has become the norm, offering flexibility to employees and businesses. As an employee for a statewide program, the world’s transition to a virtual workspace has been fundamental in connecting our teams across the Commonwealth. As efficient and convenient as meeting through the screen has been, we have learned that one very important component has been missing in bringing together our teams: one-on-one human connection.


We realized that bringing everyone together in person could provide a unique opportunity to foster collaboration, engagement, and rejuvenation that cannot be fully replicated through virtual means alone. As a result, last month the Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP) held its third annual Staff Retreat, previously held virtually, in person for the very first time!

This post will explore the key takeaways I observed from planning and attending this event.

Building Stronger Connections

One of the great advantages to working for a program like VMAP is that we are made up of a team of incredibly compassionate, caring, and driven individuals all working to achieve one goal: increasing access to mental health services for Virginia’s children and families through the providers who see them.

Because of the nature of the work, VMAP’s team members are adept at connecting with one another, even in the virtual space. We were excited to see how we could deepen those connections with this retreat. By bringing everyone together, we were able to provide a conducive environment for our team to connect on a deeper level, fostering trust, empathy, and understanding. Through the activities that we had planned throughout the day, we were able to further build upon our foundation for effective teamwork and enhance our overall team dynamic!

Strengthening Communication & Collaboration

While our team has fully adapted to virtual communication, and collaborative tools have improved significantly, online meetings cannot fully replicate the spontaneous and organic nature of face-to-face conversations. This event allowed time for collaborative activities and team-building exercises that would not have been possible in a virtual setting. A series of icebreaker activities and leadership presentations from our retreat facilitator and medical director enabled our team to better understand one another’s personalities, non-verbal cues, and expressions.

Boosting Engagement and Motivation

Although virtual work environments are efficient, and in VMAP’s case, necessary – holding large virtual events (40+ people) is the opposite of our goal with these types of events! In person, attendees are not easily distracted by other windows and work on their computers. Bringing our statewide team together in one room helped to reinforce the notion that we are all part of a larger, cohesive team.

Prioritizing Well-Being and Work-Life Balance

While we have had many meetings over the years, both virtual and in-person, to work strategically on the direction of the program, we have yet to bring everyone together for an event that prioritizes the overall well-being of our team. Working in the mental health space can be emotionally challenging, so bringing everyone together for an entire day allowed the team to step away from their screens, detach from their virtual work environment, and focus on refilling their cups. Our main goal was to revitalize our team and let them know they are valued and appreciated, both as members of the VMAP team, and as individuals.

While VMAP thrives in the virtual workspace, and the advancements in the tools that support our digital world make work between team members across the state possible, it is vital to not overlook the value of in-person events.

The 2023 VMAP Staff Retreat went beyond the realm of virtual communication: facilitating stronger connections, fostering creativity and innovation, and enhancing communication among our team. In a post-event survey that was sent out to attendees, 100% of attendees rated 5 out of 5 stars on the effectiveness of the retreat in helping them feel connected to their team members. It doesn’t get much better than that.

By Amy Waters
VMAP Engagement Manager