How we practice “work from anywhere” with employee travel stipends

When it wasn’t feasible to get everyone together in person, Nextmv provided a budget for individual travel and coworking to encourage facetime in an accessible and customizable way. This was my experience.

When I first got hired at Nextmv, there was a small line of text in my job description that I was especially drawn to:

“Face time is important for our distributed company. When it’s safe to gather in person again, the travel and experience will be provided by us.”

Because I joined Nextmv in April 2021 (a point in the COVID-19 pandemic when vaccines weren’t widely available) these words felt aspirational at best. With teammates scattered across the U.S., South America, and Europe, getting everyone together in person while also respecting everyone’s availability, health, safety, and myriad of ever-changing global entry restrictions was quite the logistics challenge. 

After multiple surveys and hopeful messages beginning with “when we see each other in person” it was clear we needed another approach. So, the Nextmv leadership team modeled what we do best with our product and came up with an accessible, customizable, and scalable solution: a travel and cowork budget for everyone at the company, aptly called the Bunny Hop Stipend.

From Yerevan to Utah

When the team announced the Bunny Hop Stipend, I was in Yerevan, Armenia for a brief stint (long story, but the pandemic displaced me from my apartment there) and was shocked and excited by the news. Half jokingly, I wrote to our Slack channel:

I didn’t expect anyone to take me up on the offer.  While it’s beautiful, Yerevan is a hard place to get to, and it’s pretty far from everyone on the U.S. team. Later that day, though, I got a message from Nils, one of our teammates in Paderborn, Germany. 

A month later, Nils and another teammate from Germany named Lars, came to visit. We had a blast together walking around Yerevan, coworking at Debed Coworking Space in Lori region, and enjoying everything the city and countryside has to offer, including anything from hiking to a night out at Yerevan’s famous Ulikhanyan Jazz Club. We had a lot of time to connect while away from the keyboard, but we did get actual work done together too.  

Breakfast in Yerevan, Armenia

The excitement of finally getting to see our colleagues in person was palpable across the team (you could even feel it logging into Slack). Anyone who works remotely knows it’s always exciting to meet your fellow Zoom squares in person, and it was so exciting after two years of no face time that we were finally able to meet in Yerevan, Armenia, of all places. A few weeks after that, another Nextmver, our Head of Product, Tiffany (based in the U.S.), came to visit as well. 

Hiking in Lori Region, Armenia

We enjoyed a lot of time together working on cross-team projects and getting to know each other’s lives a little better, as well as just traveling around the country, which we both love to do. And not too long after that, I had the chance to meet up and cowork with Tiffany in Utah. 

How our “work from anywhere” approach makes this work

I wasn’t the only one at Nextmv to use this stipend. Some folks came up from Colombia to Philadelphia. Some hopped from Michigan out to California, Virginia to New York, and Germany to Utah. 

It’s possible to imagine that this type of travel could hinder productivity. But (travel time aside, of course) that hasn’t been our experience. What made this work: 

  1. We’re pretty good at writing things down
  2. We’re tight with how we manage our calendars
  3. We respect flex work 

Let's look at each of these.

Writing things down

Being remote-first is difficult without good documentation and note-taking. And when you add an 8-hour time difference to the mix (Philadelphia, U.S. to Yerevan, Armenia, for example), it becomes a lot harder. When I’d go offline in Armenia, my German or American colleagues would come online, and so on. There’s only so much meeting overlap time to work with.

Thankfully, we made documentation a priority from the beginning at Nextmv. This spans everything from the way we take notes during meetings to creating tickets and issues in Linear for tracking to writing out useful Notion pages. These types of documentation habits facilitate asynchronous communication and help us more efficiently pass the work baton smoothly from colleague to colleague. 

Managing our calendars

While we do have meetings at Nextmv, we are mindful about how we manage them. Our philosophy on meetings is to keep them intentional: cancel them when they’re not needed, and we don’t do recurring meetings for the sake of meetings. We even have company-wide focus blocks where no meetings are scheduled and we’re super quiet on Slack. 

Regularly evaluating our calendars and cleaning up meetings is a habit for everyone on the team. And because of our documentation habits, team standups can often go quickly because updates get communicated in other ways through issues and tickets. 

When I was in Armenia, I took meetings in the afternoon (morning for Philadelphia), and blocked my calendar for focus in the morning and for fun things in the evening. The respect we pay to our calendars gives everyone a lot of freedom to design their workday in a way that works with their life as well.

Respecting flex work

Managing our calendars is the key mechanism we use to communicate our availability. Behind that is a core understanding that in order for everyone to do their best work, they also need to have the flexibility to account for non-work tasks like meeting kids at the bus stop, going for a walk to reset, and running to the grocery store before the afternoon rush.

This doesn’t mean that we are completely asynchronous – it’s really important to have some overlap with colleagues to get things done and keep a good pace of work. As a team, we do a good job plainly stating our availability for synchronous comms and meetings. Stepping away from the keyboard is normalized and acceptable. Spending loads of time in front of a screen does not always equate to added value.

Giving all employees the option to work flexible hours means that we’re much more accommodating naturally to working across timezones. It creates a regular culture of respecting others’ time and life and what they may be doing, while also balancing ways to be present for one another (sometimes earlier in the day and sometimes later in the day) when we do need that overlap. We all give and take to make the flex work. And when you’ve met those folks in person, you’re even more in-tune with that.

Opportunities for face time matter

Because we’re a remote-first company, face time for fun doesn’t happen in the same way that it might at a brick-and-mortar office. We’ve done a lot to connect in virtual space: game nights, interactive monster hunting, in-home scavenger hunts, chocolate chip cookie baking, and even the regular joke of the day on standup. But it doesn’t necessarily replace in-person connection and spontaneity. 

Getting to know the humans behind the Zoom squares through in-person interactions makes working relationships more natural. It makes pinging someone feel a little less awkward, and makes Slack messages feel fun. With the Bunny Hop Stipend, this was possible in a way that made sense to each employee, whether that was a flight to Yerevan or a drive to Philadelphia. 

It’s refreshing to be at a company where the way we work actively supports the culture we want to build. It’s been a difficult two years for everyone, and it was hard to push back our all-team meet ups somewhat perpetually, but I’d say this solution in the meantime has really been a success.

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