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Testing Results-Based Culture by Working Abroad

Mary Carnes
May 26, 2020

I’ve always loved to travel and had wanted the experience of embarking on an adventure alone. For some reason Copenhagen held the promise of being my type of city. Maybe it was the allure of hygge (the Danish word for the cultural value of coziness and comfort), or maybe the fantastic, innovative design culture, but I knew I needed to explore this city.


In February of 2020 I decided to finally pull the trigger and take the trip. It was both a means to scratch my adventurer’s itch as well as an opportunity to test whether Crema’s results-based culture would stretch across the globe and allow me to effectively work in a new environment. I embarked on this trip just 2 weeks before working-from-home became a required experience for everyone in our company due to COVID-19.


Over the past couple of months, I’ve leaned heavily on the lessons I learned while working abroad, and I believe Crema was able to have a smooth transition into working-from-home because results-based-culture was already in place.


Results-Based-Culture

What is results-based-culture (RBC), you might ask? RBC is a culture dedicated to outcomes and quality, not billable hours and quantity. Crema works to provide employees with clear objectives and the freedom to accomplish these objectives, when and where they can get it done to the best of their ability. Our employee handbook sums up the vision behind RBC better than I could ever phrase it:


“Crema desires to cultivate the best work culture that is conducive to innovation, creativity, and vocational flourishing. Our environment is built on autonomy, learning, and purpose. From the initial interview process to being a Crema veteran, each team member is given the support and autonomy they need to learn and grow as employees and as individuals.”


RBC is one of my favorite characteristics of Crema’s unique culture. We are viewed as human beings, learning, growing, and changing all the time and are incredibly supported in our individual desires and goals.


RBC in Copenhagen

When I first started at Crema, working from our Kansas City office, I rarely employed the traditional aspects of RBC like working from home or during non-traditional hours. I think this was primarily because I was still adapting to working at Crema and learning the culture. l wasn’t yet aware of the adjustments that would help me do my best work. In order to test the limits of RBC for myself as well as Crema, I set off to work from Copenhagen for 14 days.


This trip would have never happened if I didn’t feel safe enough to ask, and if Crema didn’t have a culture of trust and encouragement. I knew that this experience would help me grow, both as an employee and an individual, and my team understood and wanted that for me. The support of my co-workers and leaders at Crema was incredible, and I felt full permission and trust from them as I planned the adventure.


Throughout the experience of working abroad, I learned many things about the way I work, how Crema works, and what it’s like to be on my own. All of the structures I was used to relying on slipped away and I was simply left with “the work”. It felt like a strange de-coupling of the actual work (product design) and wrapper that contains the work (office environment, daily interactions, good coffee).


Overall, my experience was insightful and empowering. I found a great amount of freedom in the realization that the right work culture can free me to have experiences like this, while I can still be providing value for my team.



Setting myself up for success abroad

  • I did a lot of prep work before even buying a flight ticket. I wanted to make sure my whole team was on the same page and felt comfortable with the plan. If I didn’t have team buy-in, my dreams of Copenhagen would’ve stopped there.


  • While I was in Copenhagen, I wandered every morning and worked in the evenings to accommodate the time difference. This served me well since the majority of what I wanted to do happened during the day and it left the hours of darkness for me to be tucked safely into my apartment working away. That being said, there were still a few hours a day that I missed synchronous work because of the time difference. Clarifying those hours with my team, that I was and wasn’t available, and relying on asynchronous work, helped relieve any pressure or anxiety I felt about being remote.


  • I think this experiment worked particularly well because I was traveling alone. I would’ve had a much more difficult time getting work done if I was there with friends or family who weren’t working. It helped to set the expectation that this is a hybrid work/vacation, not a vacation where I’m also working.


  • Communication is king! I found that over-communicating to make sure my team and clients understood my availability and productivity was a life-line for ease of mind and a calm, confident remote-working experience. Beyond professional communication, I also really valued the social interaction work provides. My slack conversations and short zoom calls secured connection to my team and helped combat potential loneliness.




The challenges I faced working abroad

  • Deep work comes naturally to me when I’m alone. Time flies, but it also means less sleep sometimes. I had to learn to harness the focus, while also giving myself space to breathe & take breaks.


  • I missed the physical environment of Crema and had to learn to rely on the intangible structures. For example, I missed my daily chats with my co-workers, the ritual of coffee in the morning, walks in our neighborhood and my standing desk. All these physical structures that help me get in the zone and focus were stripped away and I was left with “the work” the actual stuff my job is made of. I did however, learn to rely on intangible structures like slack updates, check in calls with teammates etc to reproduce the effect that being in the office has on me.


  • The new physical environment shakes things up. It took a day or two to feel comfortable and ready to get work done well. I spent a lot of time setting up my space, making sure I had ample internet access, coffee and tea etc. The things my brain and body need in order to activate “work mode”. We all set cues and rhythms for ourselves for getting our mind into “work mode” even if it’s often unconscious. When those get disrupted it takes a bit of time before we can thoughtfully re-create the cues or re-train our minds to work in a new way.



Applying what I learned to the current remote work experience

Little did I know that only a couple weeks after returning to Crema HQ, I would pack up my things again and build a new little work nest at home. I’ve thought about each of the systems I outlined above every day, since I’ve started working from home during this global crisis, and I’m thankful I had the intensive experience of working abroad to help me learn the postures and disciplines that would help me successfully transition to WFH life.


I’m forever grateful to be part of a team that lets me wander off to work from Copenhagen for a couple weeks because they trust me to get my work done well, and they encourage the personal growth and fulfillment that I receive from travel. Crema passed the RBC test with flying colors and I’m looking forward to adventuring out again when it’s possible.

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