Warning: People who have spent the past months locked in a small city apartment with their in-laws might find some content in this article disturbing.
The COVID pandemic and ensuing lockdown changed the average person’s day-to-day life overnight. Tech companies like Spendesk - remote friendly and tech savvy - were able to deal with these changes reasonably well. But it was still a lot of change - for some more than others.
Before the lockdown, Spendeskers were able to choose where they wanted to work remotely for the next weeks and months. And while many just decided to stay where they were and change their Zoom background, some travelled literally to the other end of the world.
We wanted to hear about their experiences, the good and the bad ones.
Jérémy, Growth, Martinique
Most people had two options before the lockdown: either just stay where they were at home, or leave to see family and friends with bigger houses in nicer places. I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. I had just arrived in San Francisco for a few events in our new US office, and then the lockdown happened.
I was neither home, nor allowed to stay in San Francisco for longer. But going back to France wasn’t very tempting either as I was involved in lots of US projects, and that would mean 9 hours of time difference.
So what could I do to avoid weeks and potentially months of night shifts? Pull out the map and find a place somewhere between the Golden Gate Bridge and Arc de Triomphe.
That place was Martinique: the island in the eastern caribbean sea is part of the French Republic and on the same time zone as the East Coast of the US. Voilà!
Before jumping on the next plane I had to explain my plan to the team. In normal times, it would be rather difficult to justify working from a remote Caribbean island. But Spendeskers had been encouraged to do what’s best for them in their individual situation, and this clearly seemed to be the best option for me.
Martinique is a dream destination for many French people. The island is usually busy with tourists all year round. Now, with the same strict lockdown that was enforced on the French mainland, everyone had left or even cancelled their trips. So Martinique was pretty much empty.
Being alone hasn’t always been easy and I did face a couple of challenges. First and foremost, the heat:
But overall I’m pretty happy with my choice. And I met some great people. My neighbor even helped me with the food shopping during lockdown as I didn’t have a car.
I managed to both work with the US crew, and, being an early bird, join the team in Europe for coffee after their lunch. I learned that wearing a cap can be the more professional choice for video calls when you otherwise risk looking like Robinson Crusoe.
And I never had to fake a Zoom background (that’s me on the left):
With Spendesk working remote all summer, I plan to stay a bit longer actually. And while permanently living here is certainly not an option for me, I might try to make it a yearly tradition to work from a calm place to be able to focus – even without a pandemic.
Nauma, Customer Success, San Francisco / almost Paris / New York
I’ve been a Bay Area resident for 20 years, and I had zero plans to move to a different country let alone a different state prior to meeting Jérémy (see above) in November 2019.
But about a month later I had an offer from Spendesk, with details of my visa process to be followed. Around January 2020, my team lead Vincent, Agnès from HR and I determined that the best course of action would be to temporarily locate to Paris while Spendesk works on my UK visa process.
With what sounded like a great plan at that time, I gave Spendesk my start date: March 16th.
In the next two months, I gave the notice to my landlord, emptied out the apartment, sold anything that I could, packed my bags to move to Europe, and before moving left for a three week long vacation to Pakistan.
While in Pakistan, brand new information on COVID was coming out daily, sometimes multiple times a day. I returned from Pakistan on March 9th, and first thing I noticed after landing from a 21 hour trip was an email from Vincent and Agnès - Re: discuss the current situation in France. I confirmed I am still all set to fly out on March 14th, but that we would continue to monitor the situation daily, and stay in touch.
The day before my flight, I received a call from Agnès letting me know Paris is going on a lockdown and Spendesk will be going fully remote starting Monday 16th, and that I should stay put.
Without a place to work from, I quickly booked an apartment for two weeks to see if things would clear up over a week or two. I found a place in Oakland, close to the train station so I could commute into the San Francisco office. I now was in an Airbnb, two miles further out from where I used to live.
A puzzle I completed in my first apartment
On the 16th - my first day at Spendesk in the SF office - the Bay Area announced the lockdown. I headed back from the office with my work laptop and beers in my backpack, and a monitor in hand.
A bit later, Jérémy offered his place in SF to me that he had booked before relocating to Martinique (see above).
Since then, I’m in my fourth rental. I have this place for 8 weeks, but on the opposite coast. On June 8th, I flew to New York to be closer in timezone to my clients and the team in Europe. For now, I’m "parked" here until I can move to Paris and / or London.
So this is my 5th apartment for the year, and I’m still nowhere near where I’m supposed to be! Constantly moving has been hectic at times, but I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to be on this journey with.
And I’m the first to admit that NYC is a pretty spectacular place to be "parked."
Max, Growth, Costa Rica
I’m usually not the most organized guy. But when it comes to travelling, I really want to make sure that I’ll see the best things in each country. So I invest a lot of time in the research and preparation of each itinerary.
The trip to Costa Rica with my girlfriend was no exception. We had planned every stop along the way, long before the journey. So when it was finally time to go, there was nothing that could stop me, not even a pandemic. We decided to keep our flight on March 14 – only three days before the beginning of the lockdown in France.
In case anyone is looking for the perfect itinerary for Costa Rica...
This choice was not the one most others had made, as was pretty obvious when we boarded the nearly empty plane. But during the first week we could still visit national parks, beaches and go trekking – which was amazing as we were alone almost everywhere we went.
Once everything shut down, we had to decide for a place to stay and ended up in an Igloo at the beach. Despite not being able to follow the planned itinerary, we really enjoyed the atmosphere there which was a strong contrast to the stress and panic in the rest of the world during this time.
That’s also where we met Alejandro, a super friendly local and admirer of French cuisine who said that he lived in the jungle. He offered to host us for free if we did the cooking. As our time in Costa Rica was coming to an end and the idea of going home didn’t seem very appealing at this point, we just went with it.
I’ll admit that working remotely from here was not easy at first. The time difference made it hard to exchange with colleagues back home - you only have a few hours in the morning, before you’re all alone again. So I had to adapt and optimize to still be able to ship all my projects effectively, but I made it work.
I could imagine continuing this way, travelling and working remotely from around the world. Although I’d definitely miss seeing the team in person over a beer.
Also, I’m slowly running out of French recipes to cook for Alejandro.
Kristen, Operations, San Francisco/Paris/Seattle/Paris
Moving from San Francisco to Paris is already challenging, but once you’ve made it through all the paperwork (French administration lives up to its reputation), the real struggle begins: finding a decent apartment.
Decent meaning that it’s not on the runway of Charles de Gaulle airport but still affordable.
So you can imagine how excited I was when I finally received the keys to my new place and moved in March 1st, after two months of looking at some pretty uninviting apartments.
View from my new apartment. NB: Orchid survived, other plants weren’t so lucky...
I had a nice home, my onboarding at Spendesk was complete, but I still hadn’t ordered my first French baguette.
And then two weeks later I was on a plane to Seattle.
View of Mount Ranier
As much as I loved my new place, I still didn’t have my permanent residence card and my visa would expire before the end of March. So I decided to lock down with a friend back home.
I was grateful to Spendesk for giving me the flexibility to work abroad during this time – even though organizing meetings with colleagues in Europe and Oceania (see below) at the same time was almost as hard as finding an apartment in Paris. But the US team was super welcoming and made me feel part of their team during the time.
Like most colleagues who have left Europe during the pandemic, I also couldn’t wait to be back in Paris to continue the new life I had just begun. So here I am now, second try.
Patrick, Marketing, New Zealand
I flew back from Paris to New Zealand for a routine friends and family visit in early March. At the time, the virus hadn't really affected either country, flights were still going everywhere, and aside from seeing a few extra masks in the airports, everything seemed about normal.
It was a three-week trip home, and about 10 days in, flights were cancelled. For the first time in New Zealand's history, borders were closed. And while we could probably have made it back to France if we'd really wanted to, it didn't make a lot of sense.
More than two months later, we're still here! And I've been working for Spendesk the entire time (even during those first weeks). Because of the time difference, I start work just after lunch at 1-2pm. I have five or so hours to myself (before the colleagues in Europe come online), which is perfect for focused work and writing. And then I have a few hours to catch up, attend meetings, and even do my French lessons (provided by Spendesk).
The Spendesk “Wellington office” has some colorful characters.
The funny hours mean that I do miss some of the extracurricular activities the other teams do - Thursday beers and GIF parties. But overall this whole thing has been pretty smooth. It's not something I want to do forever, but it's good to know that we can change work habits like this without it being too disruptive.
And because normally we'd be getting ready for Summer holidays about now in Paris, we've had to think of some New Zealand trips we can take that scratch a similar itch. We've been able to explore the South Island (I'm a North Islander) and see the remote parts of the country we've ignored until now. I'm writing this right now from a motel at Franz Josef glacier!
Aoraki / Mt Cook reflected on Lake Matheson (it’s rare to see it this clearly!)
Overall, it's not the ideal work scenario, and it'd be great to be back with the team in our lovely Paris office. But we're in a pandemic, and it's fantastic that the company has supported and trusted us to keep doing our best work despite being far away.
Tim, Marketing, Australia
At midday on the day France went into lockdown, I was sitting with my girlfriend Maddy in our tiny Paris apartment and wondering what to do. In Spendesk’s first ever remote kick off a few hours earlier, our CEO Rod had encouraged all employees to prioritize being close to family and loved ones during lockdown.
The trouble was, for us that meant flying to Australia. Big call.
We were going back and forth on different options when our friendly neighbour Laurent knocked on our door. “I’ve packed my van and I’m escaping to the country”, he said with a worried look on his face. “You can’t stay here. I strongly suggest that you leave today”.
This sent us into action mode.
By 2pm, I had checked how the time difference would work between Sydney and Paris, and run the idea of working ‘really remote’ past my manager and team at Spendesk.
Meanwhile, Maddy had found a flight for Australia leaving that night, and used her connections to secure an apartment in Sydney where we could self-isolate without risking infecting any of our friends and family.
A few deep breaths later, and we pulled the trigger. By 7pm that night, we were on a flight to Australia. I managed to join a quick conference call from a deserted Bangkok airport on Tuesday at 9am Paris time, and by Wednesday morning, I was logging on for work from Sydney ready to face the French day.
It's been a surprisingly positive experience working from Australia. I start my day at around 2pm Sydney time, which is 6am Paris time, and finish around midnight, or 3pm. That gives me a couple of hours of full focus time in the mornings, but also offers a good amount of crossover with the team. Plus, Dinner time in Australia lines up perfectly with lunch time in Paris, which is a nice bonus.
Of course, there have been challenges, too. It's a shame to miss out on team events, trivia nights and random Thursday Zoom beers. And Zoom fatigue is definitely a real thing. Although I think that's the case wherever you are in the world.
Overall, I've felt focused and productive. But I'm looking forward to being back in the same time zone, and hopefully soon, in the same office as everyone else. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend this time close to the people I care about, and I’ll always be grateful to Spendesk for supporting us during such a difficult time.
Australia offers plenty of opportunities to practice social distancing by the way.
Do you want to know what we did to keep up the team spirit while working remotely? Things we’ve tried to get closer while apart.