Workcations: Taking Flex Work to the Next Level

With flexible work options becoming increasingly popular, we’re excited to share an inside look at a unique work arrangement implemented at Allinial Global member firm Holbrook & Manter, Inc. Enjoy this interview with H&M employee Natalie Bruns, who recently completed a 47-day tour of Europe while working remotely.

Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your tenure at Holbrook & Manter, Inc.

My name is Natalie Bruns. I am a manager on the Business Services and Solutions team, and I have been at Holbrook & Manter for five years. 

What inspired you to travel throughout Europe?

Growing up, my family took summer vacations every year. By the time I was 15 I had been to every US state, and since then I have expanded to international travel. I have taken several international trips each year, always limiting those to a week or two due to PTO restrictions and client needs. As I get older, I realize that our time on Earth is very limited, and we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. That being said, there is no time like the present to live and experience life. If I continue to say ‘someday,’ someday may never come.

How did you approach your leadership about this remote/flex-work situation?

I had previously had a conversation with my manager about my desire to travel and taking some time off work to do so. When I approached both the directors on my team about working abroad, they were both extremely supportive and took it as a win-win for the firm and for me. I’m able to do what makes me happy while also serving my clients and the firm. Since I work from home, I very rarely see the people on my team or visit with clients in person, so working from another country wouldn’t be any different. 

Everyone on my team and at the firm has been very supportive. I definitely couldn’t do this without their support and willingness to jump in and help with client needs.

Tell us about your “typical” day—if there is one?

For this specific trip, I have scheduled work days. On these days, I am at my computer for the typical eight-hour day in Ohio. This allows me to schedule team and client meetings that best fit the Eastern time zone. On these days, I wake up and grab some breakfast at a local café or restaurant while catching up on emails. I then have about five hours until the workday starts in Ohio. I will typically go out and explore the town I am in, whether that means meandering around or hitting up a specific historical landmark. I will grab lunch and then head back to the Airbnb or hotel where I am staying to start the workday.

On days that I have scheduled off using PTO, I am typically traveling from city to city or out exploring. I will spend 30 minutes to an hour at some point, every day, keeping up with client needs and emails. This isn’t necessarily on Eastern time. I do have email, Microsoft Teams, and cell phone access as I am out and about for any urgent matters that may arise.

Any unexpected benefits and/or challenges?

When I started this trip, there were a lot of uncertainties. What would happen if my computer broke? Would my WiFi connection be strong enough? Would I be able to make calls to my clients and team as needed? Fortunately, all of these questions shouldn’t have been concerns. My computer has worked flawlessly, and I have access to everything I would if I were sitting in my home in Ohio working. I have strategically planned my workdays in locations where I know I will have a solid WiFi connection, and my cellular service provides an international plan that allows me to make international calls. I have also opted for a European SIM card for international data at a cheaper price.

As expected, the biggest challenge thus far has been converting the time here to Eastern time. Depending on where I am exploring, I have been between five and six hours ahead of Eastern time. I have become very good at converting back to Eastern time in a matter of seconds.

The benefits are unlimited. I have found that I use my critical thinking skills far more when traveling than when living my life in Ohio. Figuring out how to get from one city to another via plane, bus, train, and taxi—in another language—can be challenging, but it is a challenge I am always up for! I also have a better understanding of the culture and way of life here. Not only does this make me a more well-rounded person, it also allows me to relate and communicate with clients that may be overseas with a better understanding. Finally, it has made me a happier, more pleasant person. I get to work a job I love while spending time outside of work doing something I love.

Any advice you’d provide for anyone thinking about doing the same thing—for both the individual and the firm?

My number one piece of advice for individuals considering traveling and working is to quit thinking about it and just do it. Life is too incredibly short. For firms considering allowing employees to work and travel, make it work for those employees you feel can handle it. By doing what I love outside of work, I am a better employee and advisor to my clients.

For firms considering this, make sure the technology your firm uses (for instance, VOIP phone systems, video calling, VPN connections, employee laptops, etc.) can support this. All of these pieces of technology make me just as efficient and effective working away from my home.

For individuals, know that working abroad takes a lot of planning and dedication. Making sure I had time scheduled to work in between all of my excursions takes a lot of planning. It also takes dedication and self-discipline to sit down and work when there are beautiful views and adventures to be had right outside your window.

What are your plans for coming back? What’s next on your travel agenda?

After 47 days in Europe, this specific trip ended for me on July 30. My next scheduled trip is to Antarctica in November; however, I may try to squeeze in another trip this year in order to get airline status. As for next summer, there is so much to see and experience in this world. The options are unlimited.

Natalie’s workcation was very well received by her firm. Everyone was excited that she had this opportunity and quite impressed by her dedication to her work responsibilities during her travels. Director Danielle Cottle said, “Natalie has done an amazing job balancing her working hours and time off while traveling all over Europe. One of the things we have learned over the past couple of years is that with the right technology, software, and communication tools, our employees can work from anywhere. Other than the time difference, I haven’t even noticed Natalie is working from another country. I will admit that I follow her travel adventures on social media, so I feel like I am living vicariously through her!”

Director Carmen George also praised Natalie’s diligence in staying in touch with clients and the H&M team, explaining that “it has honestly felt like she hasn’t been gone at all. I had no doubt that if anyone could make this feel seamless, it would be Natalie.” 

By all accounts, Natalie’s workcation was a full success, and we hope it inspires you to think about how your firm can take flex work to the next level. If you’re looking for more ideas about how to revitalize your firm’s recruiting and retention efforts, join us for the Allinial Global Human Resources Conference on October 5, 2022, or explore the Allinial Global Flex-Work Resource Center in the member website.