• People

How remote working can improve your focus

14 July 2022

Working remotely means different things to different people. For some it’s working from home alongside pets and family, for others it’s regular visits to a co-working space or even an opportunity to be a digital nomad. When JUMO’s Partner Implementations Manager, Eben Verster decided to try his hand at working from a sailboat, he discovered the rewards outweigh the challenges.

‘At the end of 2020, I was looking for my next adventure. I knew that the ability to work remotely was going to be important. I wanted the flexibility to do the things I love, like sailing, while being able to work with incredibly smart people on things I deem worthwhile. I wanted one foot in adventure and the other in the boardroom – to be on the road, but still be challenged intellectually and professionally.

That’s why I joined JUMO, a fintech company changing the world of banking and offering remote working as their default way of working. I still have flexible access to co-working spaces when required, but the focus is on output, productivity and value as the true measure of success.

At the beginning of the European summer in 2022, I had an opportunity to sail around the Iberian Peninsula. That’s the Western outcrop of Europe made up by Spain and Portugal. After 51 Zoom meetings, 36 shifts on watch and just over 1 800 nautical miles, we made landfall in Marseille three weeks after leaving La Rochelle.

Route around the Iberian peninsula.

Here’s my journal entry from the 12th of April:

Day 2 at sea. Halfway across the notorious Bay of Biscay. We’ve had fair weather so far, enough wind to sail and manageable swells from the north-west. Later a large pod of dolphins joined us, playing and jumping at the bow for a long time. We timed it well and we got a little lucky. The winds will shift by midday on Sunday. We plan to tuck into a bay near Vigo in the northern part of Spain to wait it out for a couple of days. I made a big pot of bolognese pasta but we’re all a little queasy, not being used to the motion of the boat, nudging her way through the wind and waves at 8 knots. Sailing is a slow, smouldering pleasure and like anything truly worthwhile, slightly inconvenient.

Working remotely full-time has its challenges, like sometimes being lonely, managing work-life balance, and learning to communicate asynchronously. It also brings with it some remarkable advantages like being able to work onboard a sailboat and travelling the world. 

Having the option to work remotely has enabled me to see places and meet people that I would never have been able to, had I been confined to a desk in some open plan office, somewhere in the world.

Of course working like this requires immense discipline, especially when your routine is constantly changing. It requires you to have a solid internet connection that is fast enough to edit documents online, attend virtual meetings and so on. In remote places or several miles off shore this can be a conundrum. Working like this also requires very high levels of trust, respect, clear boundaries and intentional contracting with your fellow workers.

My few weeks at sea forced me to focus intensely when working, and to plan my day carefully. I ended up wasting a lot less time and became way more calculated and deliberate about the tasks I tackled each day, when I tackled each piece of work and which meetings I attended. For example, I scheduled video calls for times I knew I would have the best internet and some peace and quiet. I reserved difficult work that required focus for when we were at anchor and did simpler, routine tasks when we were underway. It was super important to plan my days carefully to include time for boat work, navigation, cooking or sleeping. There is something that happens when you move with purpose and precision that is harder to explain than I thought it would be. But in general, I found that I got more done working this way. My productivity actually went up!

You have to weather some storms, and be out there, to catch a glimpse of the beauty. Getting settled in for my night shift.

So, you might be wondering how I did it. Practically, we rigged a CAT4 IP54-rated LTE modem up on the mast, which is just over 20m tall, giving us extended line-of-sight range to cell towers on land. This way, I was able to be online whilst being several miles off shore. During a few of the legs of the trip we were very far off shore, for those times I planned ahead and took some leave. I was also able to rest quite a bit during these times as working so intensely can be extremely demanding both physically and mentally. 

Of course, a trip like this would be impossible without an incredible crew. We were a team of four, taking turns to fulfil all of the duties on board in order to keep the boat moving. We sailed 24 hours a day, except for when we had to wait out bad weather.

Plans being made on the aft deck. Looking at weather, timing, and the route for the next few days.

I’m grateful to JUMO for offering me the opportunity to live my dream, while continuing to work towards helping them attain theirs.’

Connect with Eben