Skift Take

"There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen," Lenin once said. That seems true for the concept of remote working. Decades of talk about a revolution in remote working suddenly became a global experiment. So how will Remote Year adapt for workers hopscotching destinations?

It’s hard to think of a company more affected by the pandemic in both good and bad ways than Remote Year, which announced a new CEO and debuted a new website on Tuesday.

When Remote Year launched in 2014, working remotely was a niche concept that fewer than one out of 20 full-time employees had experimented with. Remote Year, which handles the logistics so that workers can hopscotch from place to place worldwide, has merely served 3,000 customers since its start.

But the pandemic has prompted a global test of “distributed workforces,” with many companies adapting systems to make remote working commonplace. Remote Year’s market appears to have scaled up dramatically. In the UK alone, the number of job postings that allowed remote working rose about 300 percent year-over-year, to 80,700 in November 2020, according to the recruiter New Street Consulting Group. If there are expanded armies of remote workers, can this U.S.-based startup help supply some of the infrastructure and services?

Yet in the near-term, the pandemic has made international travel unpredictable and often impractical. In a sign of the times, Israel on Monday hermetically sealed itself from tourists for at least the rest of the month.

Remote Year had to suspend its operations in March 2020. Selina, the lodging startup which is registered as a U.S. business, acquired the company in October.

New CEO for Remote Year

Remote Year’s new CEO Shaun Prime, who was previously the chief operating officer and chief product officer at Selina, said that the brand had learned a few things about how demand and consumer expectations have changed in the past year. Prime sees Remote Year as more than a travel concierge booking flights and lodging. The brand has to refine the ways it fosters transformational change in people’s lives. It also needs to add educational components in a more structured way.

“We have to be not only to be the most trusted, community-based travel platform for remote working, but also remote learning,” Prime said.

Remote Year is best known for its year-long programs where groups of approximately 40 people each move from spot to spot. (A Skift Research analyst reported on her “on the road” experience in a series for us a couple of years ago.)

But the pandemic’s disruptions have prompted the organization to offer terms of varying lengths, with 1, 4, and 12-month programs, new retreats, which are programs lasting a week or two.

The startup’s also working on a range of new educational programs with the University of California at Irvine, which wants to create a global leadership certificate program for remote workers. Remote Year also intends to work with entrepreneurship accelerators, MBA programs, and coding boot camps to offer travel-themed workshops. Prime believes such programs will appeal to both professionals burned out by the recent prolonged periods of isolation and corporations looking to provide employees with continuous learning benefits.

New Products to Offer Better Remote Control

Not all of the learning will be strictly career-oriented.

“We’re speaking to one institution about building a culinary program that might take people around the world for 12 months, visiting cities with famous culinary reputations and perhaps working with local culinary institutions and restaurants,” Prime said.

The new product of brief retreats is an idea born from the pandemic.

“Many people working from home under stay-at-home restrictions are facing a crazy new level of burnout,” Prime said. “Where can they go to get a recharge? We’d like to create a week or two weeks where you can find yourself in an intentionally based place and get to a better place for dealing with all the different challenges coming in the world.”

What about the customers who had paid for Remote Year programs that got disrupted by the pandemic? The brand has issued credits for travel once resumed and offered credits for stays at Selina properties. Remote Year will be restarting its programs in select markets shortly, requiring negative Covid test results days before participants arriving.

“The first half of this year, we’re doing test-and-learn, always with an eye of being responsible to the communities that we’re located in as well as our members and staff,” Prime said. “By the third quarter, we hope our long-term programs will be back in place.”

Prime also believes that an under-appreciated part of Remote Year is the community that remains after people have left the program. Its alumni program for people who went on stays of at least four months’ duration has about 3,000 members, called “citizens.” These people communicate via a chat forum that has offered referrals for job openings and other advice. Prime wants to do more to help support those organic ties among former customers.

So who has gravitated toward Remote Year so far? About one in seven have careers as software developers, and another one in seven are marketers. However, the rest come from a broad range of sectors, from business development to law to non-technical engineering. Three-quarters of the members to date have been from the U.S., and the gender split has been close to even. Less than 10 percent have been over 40, though some members have been in their 70s.

The community building overall is a topic Prime said his team had given a lot of thought to.

“When you bring together a bunch of people that are traveling together, they’ve got different needs, so I want to ensure that community is co-created and that we’re thoughtful about our role,” Prime said. “We have a leadership obligation to have a role, and it’s incredibly important to us to have well-managed communities.”

Creating different “tracks” or cohorts of travel around themes is one path the company might explore. Perhaps the brand would theme one track to explicitly appeal to backpackers, while it might theme around a shared interest like cooking or coding.

Given all the uncertainty about the course of the pandemic, which may still have surprises yet, Remote Year may be best off planning for only a trickle of customers at first rather than a flood. Over the longer term, though, the Remote Year story might play into a narrative Skift predicted will unfold by 2025 in its Megatrend: “Travel’s New Cadence Is More Deliberate, Introspective and Soulful.” For more context on Selina, see our earlier story: “Selina Nabs Remote Year in Bet on Subscription Travel for Digital Nomads.”

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Tags: ceo interviews, remote work, remote year, selina, startups

Photo Credit: Scott Warren, an Australian who participated in Remote Year before the pandemic while working as a frontend engineer at Graphy. Remote Year, a startup that helps remote workers hopscotch destinations, has a new CEO and new products for a new era. Remote Year