Half Here/Half There: Negotiating Your Case for Remote Work
A picturesque, mountain air filled city once frequented by French colonialists escaping the heat of Saigon. With much French influence still present in its colonial architecture and countless cafes,
Dalat has the feel of a foreign Paris.
Instead of vacationing colonialists, however, the area is filled with energetic locals running hip flower shops and secondhand clothing boutiques.
A few weeks ago, I met a Globe Hacker who has been calling this mountain retreat Home (or at least for half the year).
I stumbled into him at a local bakery while searching for a dessert croissant. I had just finished eating the best crispy pork belly Banh Mi sandwich I’ve ever had in Vietnam (you should have seen the succulent Chicharron on this piece of meat).
Asking how his vacation was going, he replied saying that he was actually living in Dalat.
Curious about how he ended up in this mountainous, Vietnamese town, I asked Kevin more about his story:
How long have you been working remotely and traveling?
I have been working remotely and traveling since June 2016. I am a Supply Chain Manager at a small medical device company.
I work remotely 6 months out of the year and spend the other 6 months in the office.
I try to be back in the office to assist with year-end and manage our physical inventory. This year I will be marrying a Vietnamese national so I will spend more than 6 months working abroad as we prepare for the engagement celebration, take wedding photos, and assist with her family’s coffee harvest :)
Why did you start traveling?
I started traveling back in 2012 just before I graduated college. My best friend from high school was in an international teaching program at his University. He had an internship in Chile in 2012 and a full time job in Honduras in 2013. I went to visit him for about two weeks in each country and got the urge to continue traveling after graduation.
What is your role at your company?
I was originally a Supply Chain Co-Op pulling information from their extremely old ERP system to run various reports for analysis. Pre-graduation, they gave me a job offer to select and implement a new ERP system.
I had turned down several other jobs in the past because of wanting to travel, but could not pass on this opportunity right out of college.
I spent over 3 years selecting and implementing the new system. I was working 60-80 hours a week to get the project completed on time and within the budget. My role was to match their business processes to the software to make things as efficient as possible. I also worked with managers to determine what data they wanted to capture for reporting.
In doing this, I had to understand every action of each department in the company.
How did you convince management to allow you to work remotely?
There were many things I took ownership of that other managers did not want to take over. As a result, they became dependent on me for many things. My goal was to work myself out of the job in 3 years by automating what I could and setting processes for the rest. This did not happen, however, and there are many things that they need me to perform because no one else can.
I told management I was ready to quit and travel. They could hire someone else and I would stay to train them on all of my duties, or I could support them by working remotely. They chose the later.
I compromised by agreeing to spend 6 months out of the year in the office. I also compromised on my salary. Most people in my position make 2-3 times more money than I do.
If I did not travel I would be negotiating for a higher rate (at least double) or looking for another job. With my supply chain degree and experience, finding another job with a higher income would be pretty easy. I made sure they understood this when negotiating to work remotely. I told them to look at Monster.com with my credentials and see the number of jobs offering higher starting salaries. At first, they were very nervous about the deal, but after my first couple of remote sessions, it became a normal arrangement.
In the end, it was a win for both me and the company.
Walk me through your day. How do you prioritize your tasks?
A majority of my work is now reporting requests for various departments including regulatory. At times there are new requirements they want the system to perform and processes they want to adjust. If I cannot make the adjustments in the system I work with consultants who assisted in the implementation.
There are a few instances with issues of software performance. I try to resolve these problems myself or work with software support to resolve the issue. Prioritizing can be difficult. I am currently working with a consultant that the President of the company hired. His time is expensive so I do not delay in getting him or the President the information they require.
Aside from that, good communication with managers and other employees is essential. I make sure to outline to them when I expect to complete a requested task. Sometimes they request things sooner and I have to shuffle things around to try and keep everyone satisfied.
The rare time I am caught up with requests, I monitor the information being entered to make sure people are populating data as they should in the system. I can also crunch data on my own to see if there are areas of improvement, or create new reports to assist managers in decision making.
I am a big fan of checklists, so I use that a lot for managing tasks.
What is one of your biggest challenges with remote work?
Managing my time efficiently and maintaining a consistent schedule (especially when we are traveling). I try and set standard hours for working, but it doesn’t always go as planned.
With an 11 hour difference from home, I always make sure to check email in the evening (that’s when employees are arriving at the office in the US). When I first started, I tried to work 40 hours a week but that was not very realistic as we were traveling a lot.
After my first remote session, I committed to working 30+ hours a week which is required for me to keep my insurance through the company.
How did you meet your fiance?
On my first remote work session, I returned to Vietnam. I had visited the country before and made friends on an island in the North. I planned to spend a month with them, but it was far too hot and crowded on the island in June.
I decided to fly to Da Lat as my Uncle's wife had family who lived in nearby Lam Ha. The weather up there in the mountains was extremely cool and I needed a break from the heat.
She was volunteering at a hostel there to practice English while she was finishing her internship and degree in Biotechnology. I was helping her practice English and cook/clean in the hostel between running reports.
She asked me to go for a walk in the rain and the rest is history. We went and visited my Uncle’s family twice and talked on Skype/Facebook while away. This is my second time coming back to spend time with her and her family, who I have lived with for a total of over two months.
What excites you the most about traveling?
In the United States, I am flat footed, bored, and lazy. I have no drive and sit at home wasting my time on various video games. I am not into going out to bars, watching sports, or listening to music, so most of the culture there is wasted on me. When I travel, however, I am on my toes always finding something new to experience.
I try and stay off the tourist trail to find the real local culture. This can be challenging in Vietnam but between my two extended families who live in rural villages, I have lost the trail.
What is your 1, 3, 5 year plan?
My 1 year plan is to complete the K-1 visa process and go to the United States with my Fiance.
My 3 year plan is to travel to the United States with her and look into continuing her education after finding what she is passionate about. *Note: we are stuck in the US for 2-3 years before she can become a full citizen.
My 5 year plan would involve children and a small home base in the United States. From there we will go where we are needed. We plan to take care of both her parents and mine.
We will live well below our means to save money to educate our children and keep traveling :)
What has been your favorite country so far?
Vietnam has topped them all in South East Asia. Honduras is still my favorite when it comes to food, scenery, and culture. Gracias Honduras was an amazing place to spend time as there were very few other tourists. I did not spend time in the larger cities though because Honduras is the Murder Capital of the World (scary).
Advice for other remote workers?
If you are in any position at a company where remote work is possible, such as IT or Database Management, then take the jobs no one else wants.
Become a master of the most difficult things in the office.
One personal example: I learned more about medical device taxes than I ever thought possible.
Also, try to live in a cheap country. Living in Vietnam, my cost of living is cut by nearly 70%, so I used that as a negotiation point at Daavlin. A company can pay you less money as a remote worker, yet you will end up with more disposable income because of living abroad.
If you can maintain your quality of work outside of the office, it is a net benefit for both you and the company. *Note: the salary compromise would not work so well in more developed countries with a similar cost of living.
My company is also rurally located so it is difficult for them to pull in talent. Convincing a boss to allow remote work could be harder in a bigger city like New York or Chicago.
Being out of sight and out of mind is also something to consider. It is something I discussed multiple times with the President of my company. If I worked remotely full time and never stepped foot in the office, I would become so disconnected that my personal value could be questioned.
I am more hands-on while being in the office and able to follow up with people in person. I can get a sense of the attitude between departments and see if there is something in the process causing conflict.
It is also easier for me to make improvements to the way we physically manage inventory. Larger projects are harder to manage remotely as training and coordinating meetings with multiple parties is much easier in person. It also helps to maintain face to face relationships with the people you work with.
Last question: do you agree that C&C Banh Mi is the best in Vietnam:
Without a doubt :) Look at that pork!
Kevin is a Supply Chain Manager at Medical Device Company in Ohio. He spends half his time in the US and the other half in Vietnam