Work­ers with wan­der­lust have new op­tions for how to keep their job and travel the world

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR jena.mcgre­gor@wash­post.com

Cassie Utt is about to spend an en­tire year trav­el­ing the globe, a trip that will in­clude month-long stops in 12 ex­otic lo­cales such as Dubrovnik, Croa­tia, and Ko Tao, Thai­land. To get ready, the 24year-old has put just about ev­ery­thing she owns in stor­age, turned in her car that was com­ing off lease, worked on visa lo­gis­tics, fig­ured out a new mo­bile phone plan and tried to re­as­sure her some­what ner­vous par­ents.

But one thing she hasn’t done is say good­bye to her com­pany.

For the next 12 months, Utt, a project manager in the hy­draulics di­vi­sion of Eaton, will con­tinue work­ing for the big man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany through a new out­side pro­gram called Re­mote Year. “Quite a few of my friends are go­ing through this right now, where they’re tak­ing a year off to travel,” she said. “To have me come along and say I’m go­ing to travel the world and keep my job? It’s hard for them to be­lieve.”

The brain­child of 26-year-old en­tre­pre­neur Greg Ca­plan, Re­mote Year is some­thing of a tour op­er­a­tor for pro­fes­sion­als with wan­der­lust. Or as one par­tic­i­pant de­scribed it: “like Se­mes­ter at Sea, but for grown-ups with jobs.”

The pro­gram, which just kicked off its in­au­gu­ral trip this week in Prague, is ev­i­dence of the evolv­ing land­scape of work. In­creas­ingly, pro­fes­sion­als with dreams of trav­el­ing the world have op­tions be­yond ap­ply­ing to a huge global com­pany with of­fices ev­ery­where or quit­ting their job for a gap year. As work­ing re­motely has be­come not only more tech­ni­cally vi­able but more pro­fes­sion­ally ac­cepted, a grow­ing crop of travel op­er­a­tors have tapped into this new mar­ket op­por­tu­nity.

Re­mote Year, for ex­am­ple, runs par­tic­i­pants $27,000 for the year — $3,000 paid up­front, and then $2,000 each month. In ex­change, it books and cov­ers the cost of hous­ing in each city as well as travel in­sur­ance and travel lo­gis­tics be­tween the year’s 12 stops. The pro­gram also se­cures work hubs with WiFi in each lo­cale and plans events and meals to foster a sense of com­mu­nity among the 75 par­tic­i­pants.

Utt and her fel­low “re­motes,” as Ca­plan calls them, in­clude en­trepreneurs, plenty of soft­ware de­vel­op­ers and de­sign­ers, free­lancers, and cor­po­rate em­ploy­ees who re­ceived bless­ings from the likes of Mi­crosoft, HP, Poly­com and Google to take their jobs on the road. Per­haps help­ing their case: Un­like tra­di­tional travel com­pa­nies, pro­grams such as Re­mote Year have a strong el­e­ment of pro­fes­sional selec­tiv­ity.

Ca­plan said his pro­gram re­ceived roughly 1,500 for­mal es­say ap­pli­ca­tions, then in­ter­viewed nearly 300 peo­ple to whit­tle the pool down to the fi­nal 75. The pro­gram looked for in­di­vid­u­als who would add di­ver­sity to the team and would have a high like­li­hood of suc­cess work­ing re­motely from all cor­ners of the globe, since full-time work was a pre­req­ui­site.

“We didn’t want to take peo­ple who just wanted a va­ca­tion,” Ca­plan said. “We were look­ing for peo­ple who wanted to ad­vance their ca­reers with new ex­pe­ri­ences. That’s a re­ally im­por­tant dif­fer­ence. They are all com­mit­ted to grow­ing pro­fes­sion­ally.”

Hacker Par­adise, which just started its third “batch” of trips this week in Tallinn, Es­to­nia, pro­vides co-work­ing spa­ces and op­tional ac­com­mo­da­tion lo­gis­tics for the roughly 30 tech work­ers, free­lancers and en­trepreneurs who com­pose its month-long trips. Other trips are planned this sum­mer for Barcelona and Ber­lin, and par­tic­i­pants pay a pro­gram fee of $850 for a month in one lo­ca­tion, which does not in­clude hous­ing or travel costs.

Part of what Hacker Par­adise of­fers th­ese pro­fes­sion­als, in ad­di­tion to help with the lo­gis­tics of work­ing from an­other coun­try, is some sense of ca­reer sup­port once they get there. The pro­gram has weekly lunches, pre­sen­ta­tion days and work­shops on top­ics like ne­go­ti­at­ing or shap­ing a busi­ness idea.

While not manda­tory, their aim is to mo­ti­vate or hearten peo­ple who sud­denly find them­selves with­out the usual of­fice rou­tines, familiar time zones or cul­tural touch points. “It’s just enough struc­ture to know you’re not just out there by your­self,” said Alexey Komis­sarouk, one of the co-founders.

That kind of struc­ture isn’t just at­trac­tive to re­mote work­ers but to the com­pa­nies that agree to let them go. While many of Re­mote Year’s par­tic­i­pants are self-em­ployed or work for com­pa­nies with fewer than 10 peo­ple, Ca­plan said 35 of the 75 at­ten­dees come from larger com­pa­nies.

Know­ing Utt wasn’t go­ing to be the one re­spon­si­ble for de­tails like find­ing re­li­able WiFi ser­vice or a quiet place to work was re­as­sur­ing to Bon­nie Smith, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Eaton who su­per­vises Utt’s boss. The clear pro­fes­sional ori­en­ta­tion of Re­mote Year, as well as the struc­tured ac­cess to work en­vi­ron­ments, Smith said, “of­fered com­fort to me. She’s not go­ing to be us­ing work time to fig­ure it out her­self.” Smith also likes the idea of Utt be­ing ex­posed to tech work­ers from other fields.

Lind­say Daniels, who works in com­mu­ni­ca­tions for San Jose­based Poly­com, said it wasn’t hard to con­vince her boss af­ter she got ac­cepted to Re­mote Year. Not only had she worked in Cal­i­for­nia while he was based in Sin­ga­pore dur­ing her first four months on the job, but her com­pany makes video-con­fer­enc­ing and con­fer­ence-call equip­ment. “This is what we live and breathe ev­ery day,” she said.

For all the plan­ning, there is still the un­ex­pected. What hap­pens if the WiFi goes down? (Ca­plan said his pro­gram has re­dun­dant In­ter­net con­nec­tions, as well as backup hotspots.) Or if some­one loses their job in the mid­dle of the trip? (Re­mote Year has a $2,500 early-exit fee.) Or a lap­top breaks in the mid­dle of Viet­nam? (Ca­plan said he doesn’t of­fer tech sup­port.)

Of course, an­other big ques­tion is what hap­pens when Utt’s or Daniels’s col­leagues get the same idea. Smith said she was com­fort­able with Utt go­ing be­cause she knew she was a high­per­form­ing em­ployee, and she trusted her to work the late-night and early-morn­ing hours Utt will need to put in when she’s on the other side of the globe. But “can I have 80 per­cent of my em­ploy­ees do­ing this?” she said. “No.”

CASEY ROSEN­GREN

Luka Kacil, who runs his own tech com­pany, has been trav­el­ing to dif­fer­ent places around the globe with Hacker Par­adise since the pro­gram be­gan last year. He’s seen here in Da Nang, Viet­nam.

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