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Remote Companies Work & Travel Experiences with Anne-Marie Jentsch

Anne-Marie Jentsch is the Co-founder at Out of Office Workations, helping teams to organize unique group experiences outside the usual work environment. She is also a business consultant, preparing and assisting organizations in shaping their future of work.

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Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. It’s a podcast that’s all about building and leading us in remote teams. I am your host, Luis, and today my guest is Anne-Marie Jentsch. Anne-Marie is an entrepreneur, consultant and scrum master that’s shaping the future of work, as the co-founder at Out Of Office Workations. Anne-Marie welcome.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Luis:

Hey, it’s my pleasure. It’s my pleasure. This is actually our second date because I messed up your company’s name. What a way to start?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Well, many people do still, but I hope Workations will be here to stay and everyone will know about it and pronounce it right. Yeah.

Luis:

Tell me a bit about the concept of Workation. I’ve read that the company offers unique group experiences that are outside the usual work environment. Tell me a bit more about the concept. I’m intrigued.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Sure. So mainly what we do is basically organized group travel, specifically group travel for teams who want to work outside their usual work environment. So outside the office for a few days. So think of a team of like 20 to 30, 20 to 40 people, 10 to 30, 10 to 40 people, that’s usually what the groups are like. They all go together, leave the office and stay together for three or four days at a place where they focus on work. So they are not distracted by the everyday work environment, but also they have time to connect, they have time to learn together, to grow together and of course also have fun together.

Luis:

Nice. When did you start this?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

We started about one and a half years ago. It was born out of an idea I had together with my cofounder who runs a coworking space in the Swiss Alps in Davos in Switzerland and I live in Amsterdam, and we said, how cool would it be if we send people to each other’s places basically. So Dutch people visiting the Swiss mountains and the Swiss people coming to the Netherlands to the sea and work in the coworking spaces and enjoy working somewhere else for some day.

Luis:

It’s like a student exchange program, but for remote workers. That’s what it was?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah, more or less. I have a background in business consulting, so I was consulting with HR departments a lot before and they’re really specializing on the future of work and new ways of working, what motivates employees, how can employees best work together in these times. Of course, with technology, there came the remote work movement basically, which I’m a big fan of and yeah, this is how this company developed into organizing those experience for teams and actually, especially for remote teams because they are usually the ones who really appreciate the time to connect in person because in everyday work life, they’re not in the same location.

Luis:

Oh yeah. That’s absolutely true. But I want to dig a bit deeper into the why. So you and your cofounder had this idea, right? It was a cool idea at the beginning to do the exchange from people from Switzerland to Amsterdam and vice versa. But tell me about the moment where you figured out that you had something here that could be extended beyond your group. What was the moment like where you felt this could actually be a business?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Sure. So we started very lean. So I read the lean startup. I participated in a StartUp Academy because of course I hadn’t founded a business before either and just wanted to see what’s the best way to start. And I really liked that approach of really testing and improving. So what we did was we organized one location and we looked for participants who were willing to test the concept.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

It turned out that those participants actually wanted to go to Mallorca. They didn’t want to go to Switzerland or the Netherlands, but they said, “It’s an October, you know, before the winter comes, we want to go to the sun, which we won’t have neither in Switzerland or in the Netherlands in the next time. So we want to go to a warm place.” We were like, “Okay.” That’s the first part of the concept that didn’t work out yet, but let’s try Mallorca.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

So we went with this group to Mallorca and rented a house there. Organized an agenda for the week. Looked up different activities and things to do and yeah, just did it. It took us maybe three or four weeks of planning. We had like three or four initial participants and then three or four more joined, so we were a nice group. Also mixed group in that case actually. It was not a team from one company, but it was three or four employees from one company, one business owner, another freelancer, so a little bit of a mixed group, but they all really liked the concept, and we also liked organizing it, so we said, “Yeah, let’s continue with that.”

Luis:

Awesome. Sounds good. Sounds great. What do you feel that ever since you started, what have you changed the mind the most about? What were some expectations that you had that weren’t met and some things that you didn’t expect that were pleasant or I guess unpleasant could also be discovered?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. Obviously, we love the concept of bringing together different people and it was great that they could also learn from each other. You know, they had exchanged work hacks and everything, but at the same time when we started trying to organize next Workations, we saw that it’s really difficult to meet people’s expectations in terms of going to a certain place at a certain time.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Also, me from my work background working with teams and aligning teams, I saw that this is actually the group I would like to focus on because first of all it’s easier to organize for a whole group instead of finding all the single participants. From a business perspective but also from a development perspective, I think there’s a huge potential in bringing teams out of the office.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

So this is I think the main development that has been happening after that first test and the development I’m very happy with and which really worked out very well with the first teams that we did those workations work.

Luis:

Nice. Have you worked more with teams that are already remote and that get pulled out all into a single location or have you worked… or has the split been more even between those and teams that are working all together in an office and want the change of scenery?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. The fun thing is nowadays most teams are somehow remote teams, right?

Luis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I mean even if they don’t say they’re a remote company, or they explicitly hire as a remote employees and most people do it either home office or they work in different locations, right? They have their different offices in different locations and teams have to collaborate across locations. So there’s a lot more remote work going on than some might expect.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Actually, most of the teams we’ve been working with do have some kind of remote work going on. We have one client and a company called Gohiring, a German recruitment software provider startup and with about 20 employees now. They really declare to be a remote company and really live that and have that anchored in their culture and they are very happy with the workations we provide for them because they’re really part of their culture and strategy to be a remote company.

Luis:

The companies you work with, do you usually use that time, that workation for team building or is it usually… Are they engaged in the regular everyday work only you know with breaking it up with the programs that you plan?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. That’s really a combination and the teams do it a little bit differently. Also from workation to workation, so not every workation is the same. if they do, let’s say two or three a year, one might be a little bit more focused on leisure, usually the one in the summer, and then the winter one might be a little bit more focused on work, but there’s always a combination.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

And work is usually not the everyday work, but it’s more like strategy, workshops, culture workshops and topics that just don’t find time in the everyday work. Then of course, two or three hours a day, everyone has to look at their emails or do urgent tasks too, but usually in the afternoons, the evenings and they’re free and yeah, just play games together or do outdoor activities.

Luis:

Nice. So what’s the largest group that you’ve created the workation for?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

We have a one group with about 45 people.

Luis:

Wow. That’s great.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

We’re just already a bit of a challenge then because it goes into a different phase, right?

Luis:

Yeah.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I mean it’s a different kind of team. You have levels within the team. You have different sub teams and also regarding the location, right. There is not that many houses that you can just rent for four to five people. So then we usually…

Luis:

You have to google.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

… collaborate with little hotels and rent the whole hotel for example.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. So what’s the difference in dynamics between one of those and a smaller team?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. I mean, it really depends on the company. Hard to generalize it. Of course, you have a little bit more subgroups working together. But what I really liked, for example, with a group of 20 people is that it’s still a group size where there’s also place for everyone to meet at the same time and really connect. Like you can all be really in one room and everyone gets a say, right? Everyone can say something and participate in a discussion.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

So maybe even if it’s a bigger team than 20, 30 people, I would even think about splitting the group if that can be part of the concept. So that you do maybe two or three smaller group workations in order to really allow for that personal connection. Because of course the bigger it gets, the less person on the internet it gets, right?

Luis:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course. I’m thinking about that whole companies like to do bonding events with the whole company if the company is a reasonable size, let’s say 30 to 40 people, right? I can see why they would be reluctant to send just half of their teams or something like that. But yeah, I can understand.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. That’s…

Luis:

From your point of view, when part of the… Because as I see, part of the appeal is that you organize stuff to break the work, like wine tasting or stuff like that. Right? So the bigger the group, the less interesting the things get that you can do. Right? It’s one thing to organize a wine tasting for five people. It’s a completely different thing to organize it for 50.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah, I mean it’s always possible and we will always find solutions. Right? But usually then you have some smaller groups, like one goes to the one location at that time and the other goes to another location at that time. Just also to make it fun for the whole group. I mean the bigger the group, the bigger the logistics and the waiting time and everything and we really want to have a flow, you know? Have a very seamless experience where everyone really can connect. That’s part of the concept. So I would advise in that direction.

Luis:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So switching gears a little bit, do you work from home? This is an audio podcast so people can’t see it, but you have a… I complimented you before we started on your lovely office and the home office and I was wondering how do you manage your day? Why don’t you take me through your typical day and your typical week? Because you actually split it between the company you’d cofounded and your practice as a consultant. So there’s an extra twist to that, right?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah, definitely. And that definitely needs a lot of organizing and time management. I think that’s one of the skills I improved most as an entrepreneur and a freelance consultant. Every day you have to make your choices what to prioritize on. So usually, I work, yeah, about half, half for the company and the other company. It depends a bit like what kind of clients I have, what kind of deadlines I have. But usually I try to really make a whole day for one topic. So either consulting or around the other business and then just in the morning and in the evening when there are really urgent things on the other business, then I put it in. But usually I try to focus not on too many tasks at the same time.

Luis:

So you split your days into… If you need to, you split them into two.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Into blocks, yeah.

Luis:

Yeah. Into two blocks. I guess that covers the typical week as well. Right? But…

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. It’s not like everyday the same, but usually it’s rather a day of this or a day of that or just to focus also.

Luis:

So when you organize a workation, are you on site or are you managing the things remotely?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Both is possible. Usually, if it’s here in the Netherlands or in Germany, I’m on site. If it’s further away, we might have local people, local host helping or the company has someone internally like an office manager or assistant who takes care of all the logistics at the place. Also, sometimes I’m working as a consultant for the team during the workation with team alignment workshops or team culture workshops, and then I’m there, too. But I also work with other trainers and coaches and they could also then become a cohost for example. Right? For example. Yeah, team building coaches or team workshops, strategy workshop, design thinking workshops, agile workshops, those kinds of things.

Luis:

Tell me a bit about this network that you’ve built around the company. As you said, you have office managers in other countries. How do you connect with them? How do you keep in touch? I have to imagine that they’re not always busy all the time. Right? It depends on the clients that you have, on the workations that you’re organizing and where they are happening. That’s ultimately a choice of the companies participating. Right? How do you maintain this network? How do you keep in touch and how do you keep everyone on par?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. We’re not that established yet so that we don’t have a real established network of employees or freelancers we work with. For now, it’s really a one-to-one thing. So if we have a location where we organize something, then we look either who we already know from the network or who we find locally to support. Of course, then we try to stay in touch with them, but it’s not like that scale of business yet that we can provide people regularly with workations. So yeah, it’s still a case-to-case basis.

Luis:

On the times that you’re on site and you see these people working as a group, but outside their usual environment, what do you think helps them succeed the most in their purpose? I guess that the purposes are varied. But let’s see. What are the things that you see people do that make you think, yeah, these guys and girls are really going to, are really taking the advantage of the opportunity of this workation?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a really good question. What is really nice to see is that the people feel a freedom to be themselves and to just act in the way they like to act. And that’s usually the case if the environment is right. For example, if you have a house which has a really nice room and working area, a kitchen, but then also for example some outside areas or some play areas more or less and you really see the teams spread across those areas in a way that really shows what they like to do at that moment. And then the people who like to do the same things at the same moment meet at the same spaces and really have good interactions. That’s always the combination of the space and the people and facilitating that, and that’s what I like to see so much and really nice to see when it works out.

Luis:

Oh yeah, yeah. I can imagine you can feel a whole dynamic showing up there. Right?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Luis:

So when you’re doing that, again, when you’re on site… Actually, before you organize that, this seems like a basic question, but it’s important to me because I’ve tried the digital number thing a couple of times and I find out that my biggest challenge where does it maybe whenever I go to a different country, is making sure that they have good internet access. Right?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah.

Luis:

Because I have been to places. Like it seems very irregular to me. So I have been in Brazil, in a place that was relatively far, well not far from civilization, but kind of out of the way and I had exceptional internet. I have been in Germany in the hearts of Düsseldorf and I could not have enough internet access to message on Slack. So I have no idea how this works. How do you vet places to make sure that that crucial internet factor is there?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah, of course. I mean, and that comes with experience also, right?

Luis:

Yeah.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I mean, we tried to go to the places before and check if it’s a place we book for the first time, but then then of course if we book it for the second or third or fourth time, we know the internet conditions, and if they’re not as good as we want, then we bring on devices the next time and then make the internet stronger like buy a mobile. Yeah.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I’m not a tech person, but there are things you can do to get better internet from the mobile internet, or actually, if it’s a location we work a lot with, we might even ask them to improve their internet if they would like to host groups like ours again, because of course that’s a challenge, right? If 20 to 40 people are on the internet at the same time, you really need a good connection.

Luis:

All right. So if people listening to this are pondering going on a workation, what are some tips, some strategies that you would give them to make sure that they make the most out of it, to make sure that they are productive at whatever work they have to do while still enjoying themselves?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I definitely apply the rule that I spoke of before of having an agenda with time blocks for different things. So really at the beginning of the week, we hang a big whiteboard and put different slots of work time or leisure time on it. Workshop time, time to work for yourself and really tried to stick to those because that’s also very important when you’re a bigger group, right? You need some kind of coordination of your schedule. So that’s the first thing.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Then the second thing is a combination of if you really need to do something on your own or you’re already a small group who really wants to work on a certain topic, then find a corner where you don’t get distracted. But if you’re more in a topic where you would like others contribute and where you like a new input, then rather sit in a space that’s accessible and where others can join you easily.

Luis:

All right. Awesome.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I mean it’s a simple trick. Right?

Luis:

Yeah.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

But it’s more difficult to do it in practice than when talking about in theory.

Luis:

For sure. For sure. So building this business over the past year and a half, tell me the story of a lesson that you learned building this business.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

What is the most relevant for this podcast? I would think regarding remote companies. I think the lesson I learned is that I’m even more fan of it than before because I saw how remote companies really managed to organize them so well and make the remote work work. Whereas if you read about it, there’s often a lot of criticism in terms of this can’t go right. I mean people can’t connect well. Communication is lacking and everything.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

But what I saw in the remote companies I worked with is that they focus so much on that culture and culture building and team communication that it’s actually a lot better than in companies were people are more in one physical space because what usually happens if a team sits in a physical space is they take it for granted that they can communicate at any time and they don’t have so many rules around the communication. That’s usually where the problem starts.

Luis:

Oh yeah, absolutely. That makes absolute sense. So switching gears a bit, let’s go to some rapid fire questions that… I mean the questions are rapid, but the answers don’t need to be, so please feel free to take as long as you need to answer them. If you had 100 euros to buy something to give to everyone participating in a workation, what would it be? There are a couple of rules. The main rule is that you can give them the money and it needs to be the same thing for everyone. So it needs to be something bought in bulk. So what would it be?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I would invest in a team workshop. Something either where they learn something new, for example, design thinking course or a personnel skill development course, or even a technical skill development course. And then one that involves some factors that you can’t learn so easily in the in the office. Like it involves for example, an outside activity or something, which you can do well in that environment where the workation takes place, because then you really have that added benefit of learning but also making use of that inspiring environment you’re in.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

For example, if it would be here in Amsterdam, it could be also a startup tour or something like that, like StartUp Safari in the city, which we normally do here by where you learn a lot about how other startups work.

Luis:

Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. I need to bring that idea to Lisbon, StartUp Safari. I think there are enough there now.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I guess there are already office like that so for those kinds of things I don’t reinvent the wheel, but I always partner with local companies.

Luis:

Well, do you get to shoot tranquilizing darts at founders? Is that something that you can do? I guess it’s illegal in Amsterdam.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

It doesn’t go well with the values of my company.

Luis:

Sure. Well, I did say tranquilizers. But anyway, so what purchase for yourself has made your work life easier or more productive in the past year?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Also, good question. I guess a noise canceling headphone is very useful when you travel a lot.

Luis:

Oh, yeah.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I can definitely recommend that. But I haven’t found a good one which also has a good microphone yet. As you can see, I still use the normal Apple pod as a microphone because they have actually quite good quality and then use the headphone to listen to stuff. That one.

Luis:

It’s so incredible but it’s still the best thing to use.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah.

Luis:

I would think that someone would come up with an easy, with a better headset than the one that comes by standard in Apple products. But I haven’t found one.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah, and it’s nice and small and you can take it everywhere and the quality didn’t decrease with time also. Especially, I use it a lot and I put it in a lot of different bags and it’s still working well, I hope.

Luis:

Same, same. But you didn’t really answer my question.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

No, no. The headphones would have been the last purchase I made and I’m very happy with.

Luis:

Okay, cool.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Maybe to add another thing is the Headspace app subscription, which I use a lot.

Luis:

Oh, nice.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

So meditation app, I’m a big fan of.

Luis:

Okay. So do you use it more for meditation, sleeping, what, something? And how has that impacted your work?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah, both. I mean, I use it while I’m traveling for example. I’ve downloaded a few meditations, like standard meditations. I can just do it very well with a guided meditation basically. I also have a meditation timer, but especially if you have a lot of distractions around you, it’s difficult to get into the zone and the guided meditation works for me well. So I use it both when I’m traveling, when I have some waiting time at a train station for example or something like that, but also in the evenings and sometimes in the mornings.

Luis:

Nice. All right. So what book or books have you gifted the most?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

What was the last book I read? I wouldn’t need to think about it. I did read some nice books in the last time, but I wouldn’t know one now that I would like to recommend.

Luis:

Okay. Do you give any books out away?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

I gave four for Christmas. For Christmas, I gave my client the book called… I think it’s called something like, Make Your People Go Surfing or Let Your People Go Surfing of the Patagonia founder.

Luis:

Oh, nice. Oh, from the Patagonia founder. Okay.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah. So the Patagonia founder made a book called Let Your People Go Surfing, I think. I think that was a nice present for my workation client because yeah, it shows very well how a company founder develop their company and build a very particular work culture.

Luis:

Well, I’ll have my podcast producer check the name of the Patagonia founder and find that book and we’ll include that in the links in the show notes.

Luis:

Okay. Final question. So let’s say that you are hosting a dinner with the top technology execs from all over the world and on that dinner, there will be a round table about remote work and the future of work. The twist is that the dinner that you are hosting is in a Chinese restaurant. So there will be fortune cookies and you as the host can choose the non-promotional message to put on the fortune cookie. So what would your message be?

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Very spontaneously. I think the message would be, make today count.

Luis:

That is a lovely message. Spontaneity is good. Make the day …

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

That was the first idea that came to my head and I think it’s important to get something out of every day, even if it’s just a little bit like a little step. I’m big fan of small steps.

Luis:

I think that is a lovely message to end the podcast on. So Anne-Marie, please tell our listeners where they can interact with you as a guest, where they can find you, where they can continue the conversation and where they can learn more about workations.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Sure. First, I’m personally active on LinkedIn, as Anne-Marie Jentsch. You will find me in with my name. Probably you’ll put a link and then our website of course is workation.works. So that’s W-O-R-K-A-T-I-O-N. So, workation.works

Luis:

We will link to you.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yeah?

Luis:

Yeah.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

We have also social media channels as a company of Out Of Office Workations on LinkedIn, on Facebook and on Instagram.

Luis:

Okay. Well, so if you have anything, please feel free to add on or send me later and my producer would then include it in the show notes. For now, that is it, ladies and gentlemen. That was the DistantJob Podcast and our guest today was Anne-Marie Jentsch from Out Of Office Workations. Thank you so much.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Yay. That’s it.

Luis:

See you next week.

Anne-Marie Jentsch:

Thank you.

Luis:

And so we closed another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners, and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well.

Luis:

You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcasts indication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, any episodes really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts off the episodes up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

Luis:

Of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate. 40% faster than the industry standard. With that, I bid you, adieu. See you next week on the next episode of DistantJob Podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Thinking about gathering your remote team? Anne-Marie Jentsch shares her knowledge in organizing group experiences for both onsite and remote teams in different parts of the world.

In this podcast episode, Anne-Marie talks about how most companies are remote at some point, and how working in other locations is healthy for boosting a company’s culture. Our guest shares details about how Out of Office Workations arranges traveling experiences for companies, where employees get to work in a different environment but also connect with their coworkers.

She shares her insights about remote companies:

''What I saw in the remote companies I worked with is that they focus so much on that culture and culture building and team communication that it's actually a lot better than in companies were people are more in one physical space.'' Click To Tweet

What you will learn:

  • Pros of traveling with your team; working and bonding in a different location
  • Arranging meetups in remote teams
  • Time management tips – how to manage different projects
  • Dynamics of workshops and group activities
  • Work and leisure time

 

Book Recommendations:

 

Note: This podcast was recorded before the Coronavirus outbreak.

 

 

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