Working Remotely from Copenhagen for 30 Days

This year, Sarah, Greyson and I decided to experiment and live from Copenhagen, Denmark during the month of August as part of FullContact’s “Work. Remote.” policy.

If you’d like to follow along, Sarah has been blogging regularly about our adventures at TheLorangs.com.

We’re a little over halfway through the month and I feel like I’ve established a good rhythm over the past ten days or so. I’m getting good sleep (and so is Greyson). I’m getting an enormous amount of work done each day and spending quality amount of family time with both Sarah and Greyson.   We are completely in sync as a family unit, which is a really good feeling.

When we talk to people about what we’re doing – many are surprised that we’re spending an entire month abroad.   On top of that – we’re not vacationing (as many assume), but we’re continuing to lead our lives – just remotely.

So we’re working, we’re on conference calls, we’re e-mailing, we’re texting- we’re just hanging out – it just happens to be in Copenhagen instead of Boulder.   One thing we’re not doing is watching TV.  We’ve cut that completely out – and we don’t seem to miss it.

So, why, you might ask, did we decide to do this in the first place?  Why “Work Remote” from anywhere in the world for a month?

Naturally, there’s a bit of a backstory.

During my twenties, I traveled an enormous amount.

Domestic. International.  I was all over the world.

I would spend days and weeks on the the road for work.

One year, I think I logged about 310 days on the road.

I had United 1K Status many years in a row.

I was a Hertz #1 Club Gold member.

I played a game with colleagues called “Name that Airport” where we’d take a fairly generic photo of an airport, then e-mail it around and see who could guess which airport it was the quickest.

When the movie Up In the Air came out, starring George Clooney, I received lots of emails and texts from people asking if I’d seen it, as they said it reminded them of my life.

While it may sound exciting and exotic, it really wasn’t.

Mostly I saw lots of airports, hotels, client offices and restaurants.

I never really stopped to smell the proverbial roses.   I probably could have, but I didn’t make the time.

Perhaps that’s part of how I’m wired.   I’ve never been one that is eager to go and partake in all the touristy activities.

I don’t really enjoy the crowds associated with tourist hot spots.   I simply don’t enjoy feeling like cattle.

Instead, I derived most of my pleasure when traveling by just being someplace and living like a local.

I enjoy meeting locals and getting to know how they live.  I like to get to know what they eat, what they drink, their customs, how they think about the world, etc.

I just enjoy immersing myself in the life rather than being a tourist with a few days to cram everything in.

So, fast forward a few years  – I’m now married to Sarah and we have a 15-month old son, Greyson.

Sarah and I talked a lot about how we wanted to raise our kid with broad international exposure – we just believe that if our child gets global exposure, he’ll realize that the United States definitely does NOT have everything figured out quite yet!

More importantly, we want our kids to be true global citizens.

Also, a few years back, in 2011, Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor decided to live and work from Paris and Italy for a few months.

Brad in particular is one of the busiest, hardest working guys I know, so I knew that if they could pull it off, so could we.

As FullContact approached the five year mark, I decided that it was time to do a quick reset on a personal level.  I figured “work remote for a month” would be a good way to do that.

I have worked really hard at building an organization inside of FullContact with leaders that can operate like a CEO does.   Each have a high degree of personal accountability, authority, freedom, decision making, responsibility and clear goals (OKRs) they set each quarter.

I work very hard to try to give everyone that reports to me lots of information (sometimes probably too much) – coupled with a high degree of freedom and responsibility for their respective areas.

This means that they don’t need me in the office every day for them to know what to do.   They’ve got numbers to hit, deadlines to meet and goals to knock out.  I’m not a necessary component (nor should I be).

Simply put – if the CEO is integral to the hour to hour needs of the business at 70+ people, the business is not in good shape.

If my direct reports need some support, I’m just a Google Hangout, Text Message, Slack, SMS, iMessage or Phone Call away!  Honestly, in today’s era, there are so many ways to communicate across the Atlantic, it’s ridiculous and even a bit overwhelming sometimes.

Before we left for Denmark, I re-read Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive and the whole “death by 1000 papercuts” when it came to time management for executives resonated with me.  So when I started the month, I decided to cancel all my 1-1s.  I removed all recurring meetings from my schedule.  If anyone in the organization needed some time with me, they can schedule some time with me in an ad-hoc way.  I have made myself “open to meetings” from 3PM to 5PM Copenhagen time every day (and it’s been a surprisingly underused time slot).

I feel like I’ve gotten some time leverage back – and – as you may recall, my word for 2015 is Leverage.

When I get back to Boulder, I’ll take a deep dive and do a retrospective look at the month.  I’ll also take a look at how well the organization operates without me physically present and talk things through with each of my direct reports to figure out if we need to make any adjustments to our operating cadence to effectively use our time better.

In the meantime, I’m unfortunately still spending too much time on e-mail.  Even without all the internal e-mail, 90% of my e-mail is external and corresponding with the outside world.   I’m usually really good at keeping up with e-mail and I believe in responding to people, but it does become a drain when it takes a couple hours of my day, every single day just to keep up.

But I’m also working on several big, meaty projects, which requires a lot of thinking time, a lot of writing and editing (and re-writing), and a lot of introspective time as I process everything going on in my brain.    So that’s been a nice change of pace.

From a CEO vantage point, where capital allocation is one of the most important functions, it is incredibly helpful to be an ocean away and see the bigger picture that is difficult to see when mired in operational details every day.

But, as for the future, Sarah and I are convinced that this needs to be an annual event.   Like anything, we’ll figure out what works, what doesn’t – both personally and professionally – and iterate and adjust.

But, halfway home, the experiment with living in Copenhagen feels like a success on a number of levels and I would encourage every leader to try to give it a shot at some point.

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