Berlin is not famous for its winters, in fact, they are grey, dreary, chilly and generally unpleasant for the average person to endure. Reflecting on this rather dismal reality, two of our team members at 99chairs started toying around with an idea: “what if we could set up a winteroffice somewhere tropical for two months? Somewhere like the beautiful coastal South African city of Cape Town perhaps….”

This was a big “what if”, and the two quickly had a plan in mind: find and pitch the unique benefits to convince our founders Frank and Julian of this endeavour. They did their research and found low and behold, the benefits amounted to more than just a great tan:

Researchers from Central Michigan University found that exposure to sunlight was a major predictor of whether someone was satisfied at work and committed to their job. And! Economists have found that employees tend to be 20% more productive when they tackle projects that require a level of creativity remotely.

Beyond just the stats, at 99chairs we firmly believe that our colleagues are also our friends, undertaking common goals and supporting each other as both buddies and teammates. And with this idea we knew we could bond and connect more deeply through traveling and experiencing new things together. (Oh and in case you’re wondering, there are also a bevy of stats supporting the business value of friendships at work.)

So armed with the research, and knowing our winter office plan meant team fun in the sun and soaking in new scenery like the vineyards of Stellenbosch and hiking Table Mountain, we set out to prove that this could also be a functional plan for our business operations.

How you may ask? Well, we made some pretty solid arguments to persuade our founders of the lasting benefits to the 99chairs team. From there we set some ground rules for how we would make this a sure-fire company success:

Ground rule 1: Business as Usual

We are working snowbirds and these two months would be work time, interspersed with travel and adventure. So the same high expectations for our team members staying in Berlin, held for those of us travelling to Cape Town. All our meetings and projects would still happen as usual and we would keep in touch continuously through our various communication channels (and copious amounts of GIFs).

Ground rule 2: Customer is King

Even with us being on the other side of the hemisphere, our customers would remain our focus. We agree to ensure the same care and support abroad as we would with the entire team staying in Berlin. This means that every team has the responsibility of handling customer service proactively and arranging travel plans accordingly.

Ground rule 3: Treat the experience like an entrepreneur would

We have a big belief in embodying an entrepreneurial spirit at 99chairs, which means you have total flexibility and autonomy to manage your work – but also the responsibility of owning your projects and ensuring they are completed to the highest standard. So what does this translate to: it means full flexibility to work from anywhere at any time, as long as both our clients and our team are not at a disadvantage.

And in case you’re wondering if this move towards maximum autonomy is really the right one to make, according to a study from Bentley University, 77% of Millenials want flexible, ‘make your own’ hours, because it makes them more productive. And the groundbreaking industry precedent from Ctrip found that their employee productivity increased by as much as 13.5% when they permitted remote work.

So while we had the freedom to fly to Cape Town, we also knew (and the stats backed us up) that this would make us both a more connected and motivated team. As working entrepreneurs with wanderlust, we will have the drive to work on a common goal while we’ll also drive around a herd of zebras at Kruger National Park together.

Still seem unreal to you? Well, Frank and Julian are convinced and we’re getting ready to head out!  And this is just the beginning of the journey, we’re excited to report back on our new venture in terms of remote team work!

In his book ‘Modern Romance’, comedian Aziz Ansari and a group of sociologists found that when it comes to dating, we are more likely to feel a personal connection to someone who takes us on that extra special monster truck first date, than to the run of the mill starbucks invite. So, when it comes to feeling connected to our friends and our co-workers, we decided to follow the same logic. What started as a random idea between two people, will now be reality for half of our office that is joining us in Cape Town!


Author: Jenny | Lead People Operations & Workplace Culture @99chairs

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