Extreme Remote Working: The Cave Executive

Image credit: iStockphoto/ananaline

With the Zoom conference almost ubiquitous during the COVID-19 lockdowns, many people have used interesting backgrounds online to spice up the look of their workplace.

Instead of being located in your home office, it can be a famous view from a celebrated city or a global landmark.

When people see Martin Turner online in a call, they see a cave as a background. Most people think he’s using a fake background until he tells them it is real.

“People always think it’s a joke, but it’s actually my home,” says Turner.

The unusual route

Turner’s story might just be one of the most unusual remote working stories from the whole COVID-19 experience.

The German national works at software giant SAP, where he is a global vice president and head of consumer industries services, leading a team of around 300 worldwide to assist customers in the retail and consumer products sectors using SAP software.

Instead of running the team from Frankfurt, or the east coast of the U.S., Turner is ensconced in the tiny Australian outback opal mining town of White Cliffs, over 1,000 kilometers from the nearest capital city, Sydney.

White Cliffs has a pub, a shopping center, and a motel and is home to a floating population of opal miners, farmers, and tourists. Many permanent locals are retirees.

Because it can get as hot as 48 degrees Celsius in January, many people choose to live underground. And this is where Turner and his wife and four children currently make their home.

“My wife is Australian, and her family runs a sheep grazing property out of town,” says Turner.

“I lived and worked out here for a year after we met, and before I started at SAP, and I worked as a jackaroo on the farm.”

From there, Turner and his family went back to Germany, and from there, it was to SAP Australia, “because we liked the sunshine” and then another move to Shanghai.

While in Shanghai, Turner was promoted to his current global role, and the family came back to Australia for Christmas 2019, intending to move either back to Germany or the east coast of the U.S., which are the best time zones for his SAP customers.

Then, of course, COVID-19 changed the world, and Turner and his family were in White Cliffs.

“I started the global role in May, but in the end, I had no choice on the location,” he says.

“It is clear there is no relocation this year, and even next year, we are not so sure.”

Digging your office

So, Turner and his family purchased a White Cliffs “dug out” and equipped it with an antenna so he could access the 4G network.

His routine is to get up at 11 am and have time with his children, aged 11 to 3, all of whom are home-schooled.

He then goes into his cave office at around 1 pm, getting ready for the “early Germans” who wake up at around 3 pm Australian time.

Turner continues working as U.S. colleagues start work, and he goes through the night to finish at around 3 am, getting to bed around 4 am.

“You talk about remote delivery; well, I really do remote work from where I am,” he says.

“I’m probably the only one in White Cliffs doing an executive job, but everything works fine for me. SAP has a flexible work policy, around place and time, and it doesn’t matter where and when you do the work as long as it gets done.”

Broadening talent pool

With no firm date yet for a COVID-19 vaccine, Turner and his family are likely to stay in White Cliffs until the pandemic passes, which means they could be there well into 2021.

They like the place so much they have also bought another dugout and are renovating it as a long term holiday home.

“I think some things will go back to normal for working when COVID-19 is over, but some things will stay,” says Turner.

“I think we’ll be more flexible in our working in the future, and that will also open up a bigger pool of talent. If you have a headquarters in Sydney, you need to recruit people there or attract people to move there, but if you work remotely, you can open up the entire world, or at least your time zone.”

Image credit: iStockphoto/ananaline