"Remote Year" Work in progress
27 February 2018
Sarah Pfeffer

Digital. Diverse. Different. Boehringer Ingelheim goes Remote Year!

In July 2017, Anne-Madeleine Kleinwächter, Global Senior Manager Leadership Development, started her participation in the disruptive development program ‘Remote Year’ to gain unique experiences and make contacts in a diverse and multicultural environment. Over the course of 12 months, she travels the globe and spends each month in a new international city such as Prague, Kyoto or Buenos Aires. She has a laptop, a suitcase and a clear goal: mutual learning, meeting people from different cultures and experiencing the different economies.  This allows her to gain exciting insights into the ‘future of work’, building valuable partnerships across company and industry borders and gaining innovative food for thought for Boehringer Ingelheim. Diversity & Inclusion drive innovation and growth. A feature by Jan Pfaff and Sarah Pfeffer.

What is Remote Year?


Seventy-five cosmopolitan professionals, entrepreneurs, and freelancers work and live together for a year in twelve different international cities to see the world in a new light. They develop the ability to permanently adjust to new environments in agile ways and are forced to question their usual practices. The complete surroundings are turned upside down and nothing is the way it used to be. This novel learning approach happens on three levels: the way they work, live and encounter each other as global citizens. There are no limits to diving into new cultures and languages and ways of living and working. Each year, about 250,000 people from all over the world apply for this unique experience. The chance to be chosen for participation is less than 0.3 percent.


During her ‘Remote Year’ experience, Anne-Madeleine spends three months in Europe, three months in Asia, and six months in South America while pursuing her regular work for Boehringer Ingelheim. The Fellow Remotes (participants) hail mainly from the USA, Europe, and Australia. On average, they are 26 to 33 years old, but the ages range from early 20s to early 60s – a truly colourful mix!


Workplace and culture


Remote Year, the company responsible for the extraordinary development program with the same name, distinguishes itself through freedom and flexibility in work structuring. Therefore, the modern workspaces provided to Anne-Madeleine and the Remote Year community are geared towards individuality and creativity and the open environment allows participants to freely creating their own workplace: There are shared coworking spaces, separate ‘Focus Rooms’ for conference calls, as well as creativity and relaxation rooms for short breaks or ‘power naps’ to replenish one’s energy reserves. An extensive electricity and WI-FI network provides a seamless and fast internet connection so that the Fellow Remotes can even work outside, for example in the ‘WI-FI gardens’ or on the roof terrace. This allows participants to fully concentrate on their work and benefit from professional development and valuable partnerships.


‘In the Remote Year community, we have a very relaxed culture. There is no “formal” conduct at all’, Anne-Madeleine explains. ‘There is no competition. Instead, we mutually support each other. The work happens on a much more personal level here than it does in a traditional office. The modern coworking spaces are furnished very comfortably and artistically with armchairs and areas to eat in, lie down or sit. This variety allows me to switch my workplace freely several times a day and thus connect with new people. At the same time, there is a very disciplined and quiet atmosphere that I like very much. Everyone is very focused when working in the coworking spaces while phone calls are made in “Focus Rooms” to not disturb anyone’s work’, she says.


Onboarding Remote Year


‘I was excited by the support I received since being accepted into the program’,  Anne-Madeleine remembers. ‘Since day one I benefitted from weekly webinars a modern onboarding portal and an Onboarding Manager who nurtured the networking between participants. I also met my two Project Managers, who will accompany us, in advance. They are our steady guides and contact partners in all matters. For instance, they organise “Town Hall meetings”, “Skill Sharing Sessions” and “Networking Events” with the whole group. Then there are also “City Teams” in each location. They are well connected locally, which allows us to dive quickly into the local cultures. Additionally, the Remote Year team establishes helpful contacts with local partners to establish business connections for the remotes, or help with other individual wishes.’


The Future of Work


‘Participating in the Remote Year program demands a high degree of agility because things and topics move very fast’, Anne-Madeleine explains. ‘Despite all the support that is provided, I have to adjust to new environments, new conditions and challenges non-stop: new coworking spaces, new people and cultures, countless impressions and experiences. This strengthens my ability to focus and prioritise in an ever-changing work environment. I am convinced that the agility a modern workplace requires will eventually replace the inflexible structure of traditional workplace models. This ‘mindset change’ opens up a variety of possibilities and revolutionises the way in which we cooperate and win new talents for our company.’


Another key learning for me is the way digital communication occurs within the Remote Year community. E-mails are replaced almost entirely by new technologies such as ‘Slack’. This application allows pooling of communication and news channels into a simple, fast and efficient overview. ‘This new way of communicating and networking really fascinates me. I have participated in international conferences and have been connected to all participants within seconds’, says Anne-Madeleine. ‘Additionally, the app allows participants to work together on topics and projects with ease.’


Another building block of the Remote Year program contains professional development. A wide range of workshops and seminars offer many opportunities for the Remote Year participants to acquire additional knowledge. For instance, Anne-Madeleine attended a seminar on storytelling and an agility conference which benefits her work: ‘The concept of the agility conference was new to me, as there was no rigid agenda. Instead, it was run by the participants – without PowerPoint but in direct dialogue. We have to dissolve inflexible structures and bring people together again’, she explains. ‘A PowerPoint presentation does not change the culture of togetherness, but the dialogue between people does so all the more!’


Diversity and Inclusion in the Remote Year


In an extremely diverse environment, the ‘intercultural learning curve’ is of course very steep. ‘In the Remote Year community, I feel that I really come to know other cultures. Here, emotional intelligence plays a central role – Remote Year allows me to hone mine with the diversity within the group and in each new city. In the Remote Year community, there is a strong team spirit and each day anew, I am very inspired by the diversity of personal and professional perspectives. We avidly exchange our experiences and learn from each other.’ This is also one of the strongest connections between the Remote Year programme and the Diversity and Inclusion goals of Boehringer Ingelheim: Building the right team composition and balance while creating an inclusive environment where diverse thinking can flourish and is valued.


‘There are many great talents in our Remote Year community, much room for synergies and great potential for cooperation’, Anne-Madeleine says. ‘The culture is based on mutual giving and taking without competitive thinking. We strive to inspire and support each other in reaching our individual goals and achieving lasting successes globally. This mindset will certainly be critical in the future’, she believes.

"The variety of professional and personal perspectives inspires me every day!, says Anne-Madeleine Kleinwächter. "
Sarah Pfeffer
Anne-Madeleine Kleinwächter_Boehringer Ingelheim

Remote Year Anne-Madeleine - Digital. Diverse. Different.

In July 2017, Anne-Madeleine started her participation in the disruptive development programme ‘Remote Year’ to gain unique experiences and make contacts in a diverse and multicultural environment.

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