The Virtual CPA Success Show: Episode 26
We know a lot of companies are moving to a distributed model, so we wanted to give some more insight to how the Summit CPA team works remotely. Today, we are talking to two of our employees, Angie Douglas and Mikala Paige, who have unique remote working situations.
Listen to learn about how our Summit CPA team lives the remote lifestyle, and tips for anyone who wants to live this lifestyle themselves.
Jamie Nau: Hello and welcome to today's podcast. I'm really excited about today's episode because we're going to talk with some Summit employees. So one of the best things about working at Summit is we have great people, and the reason we're doing today's podcast is because we know a lot of companies are moving to either a distributed or remote model. We want to talk a little bit more about this, and it is has been a requested podcast episode. People are always curious about how we make remote work, and what it does for our people, as well as the ownership team. So we decided today to bring on two of our employees that actually have pretty unique situations in terms of the way they work at Summit. So we have Angie Douglas and Mikala Page here, with Jamie and Jody. So I'm going to start with you Angie. You want to give us a little bit of background about your time with Summit and kind of how you kind of became the Summit mascot there for a while, as we called you when we went out and traveled?
Angie Douglas: I have been with Summit for 4 years now. When I started my husband was working remote also, and we've always loved to travel. So we took this as the opportunity to move into a sprinter van for a few years. So we put our little offices in there, and spent way too much money on internet, and we hit the road. We quickly discovered that summer is not a fun time to be in the van. So we mixed up the van with month long rentals. One July we spent in South Dakota. We rented out a church in the middle of nowhere that had been converted into a house. So mostly in spring and summer, we'd be on the road and we do weeklong stays at different campgrounds, at national parks. Then from there we moved into a houseboat for six months because we could. And then from there we lived on a travel trailer on our property in Ohio. And now we're currently living in a real house. We've been here for 14 months, but next month we're really back to the travel trailer in Ohio.
Jody Grunden: Oh you are?
Angie Douglas: Oh, yes, slightly concerned. I mean, water, unlimited power, a giant refrigerator. These are things I didn't realize I missed.
Jamie Nau: Awesome. So we're definitely going to ask you a lot more questions about all three of those experiences for you. Before we go down that path, Mikala, you want to give us a little bit of your background with some of the moving around you've done?
Mikala Page: Yeah, so I started with Summit right out of college, so I've been here a little over two and a half years. The first year I didn't really travel that much besides like weekend trips. I did work remote from Belgium for a while. That was really the extent of my traveling. So I like to travel with minimal stuff. So I've realized that the more accessories you have, the more they get broken or just the more annoying it is. But in August of last year, my friend from college asked me if I'd be willing to travel with her for a while because she wanted to start travel nursing and didn’t want to go by herself. So she called me. A week later, we moved to Myrtle Beach. So I've been traveling with her for a year now. We've moved four times now. We're in our third state together. It's been really fun and I feel really lucky that I'm this flexible, and also that I can fit all of my belongings in my car.
Jamie Nau: So let me get this straight. You're in your favorite state right now because you're in Colorado with me, right? Yes.
Mikala Page: Well actually, I am home right now in Indiana. Most of the time I'm in Colorado, so a great place to be.
Jamie Nau: So I'm going to ask each of you guys before we go into the details of your specific situations, just one or two tips for people that are interested in sharing the same kind of lifestyle where they are interested in either living in a van, or going to different locations throughout the year. So let's start with you Mikala, what would be one or two tips for someone that's thinking about doing this?
Mikala Page: Kind of like I said before, keep everything condensed. I don't know how Angie did it, but I had trouble with my laptop and a portable monitor. I don't have big screens. I don't have a fancy setup or anything. I've realized how to keep it condensed. And then another thing is scope out your Wi-Fi situation before you get to where you are going, because the worst weeks that I've had working somewhere, or trying to use my phone hotspot the entire time, it does not go well for me.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, Wi-Fi for sure. I think that's a good tip for the business owners. Jody, that's something we do, right? When people apply, we actually have them send a screenshot of their internet speed because it is that important. How many people have we hired and in the first week they're here and they're talking and we can only hear every other word they say because they're Wi-Fi is not strong enough.
Jody Grunden: Yeah we went distributed back in 2013. So we've been doing it for seven, almost eight years. That was a big thing, especially for us, because we had no idea, you know, it was one of those things where it was a trial by error. We found out, I mean, the best employee could be the worst employee if you can't communicate in working in a remote environment. So that was super, super important. And that's why we started shortly after making that a requirement to take a picture of their internet speed. It's amazing how people think how fast their internet is when in reality it’s not even fast enough to do a Zoom call. So internet speed is super, super important. So I can’t imagine what you guys go through in trying to find a find a location, especially with Angie if you're traveling in a van.
Angie Douglas: I pay for three forms of Internet. I spend more than $200 a month on internet because no one wants to hear that I don't have a connection if I'm out camping in the desert.
Jody Grunden: That's right. Yeah because nobody cares, right?
Jamie Nau: You end up getting annoyed with the person, even though it's not even their fault. It's like you're trying to have a normal conversation with someone when they keep cutting out, you're like, oh man, I just want to hear what you're saying.
Angie Douglas: And I know I can't go to North Dakota and Montana because the wireless networks there are not good enough. I learned that the hard way, and spent a week in a hotel because we couldn't find any wireless. That's when the expenses go up quite quickly on the road trying to work. People say oh you must save so much money. I don’t.
Jamie Nau: I mean I think the other thing too is, you kind of have to try it out. When I first started at Summit, my internet speed was fine, but internet provider I had, they would just have like two minute lapses during the day or the internet would just stop. So I'd be working on something and everything would freeze up. So I ended up changing internet providers. That was back when we were on the network. So it was even worse because I kept getting disconnected from the network. Now it's easier
Angie Douglas: We have this really cool router that flips to back up internet within seconds of losing internet when it goes out..
Jody Grunden: Oh wow. That's cool. That's a good idea. I don't have that, unfortunately.
Angie Douglas: For your three internets you pay for?
Jody Grunden: Yeah.
Jamie Nau: So Angie what are a couple of your tips that you would recommend?
Angie Douglas: Definitely researching the internet. It is something you don't expect with being at home and having really good access to it. There is a lot of apps out there that help with coverage. So researching those before you decide to go somewhere and don't try to switch locations mid work week. Do it on a Saturday, give yourself time to get to work done.
Jody Grunden: I think that's true even when you're looking to buy a home, you know, a lot of times you don't think about it, but you go and buy a really nice home and when you get there you realize it doesn't have internet, or it’s low speed Internet. That's like one of the first things we tell people. If you're going to move, check the internet out before you move. Make sure that it's got high speed internet. I remember having an employee this was probably about six, seven years ago now. She moved three different times and could not find internet before she realized I really need to have internet. She was doing exactly what you were doing Mikala, using her phone as a hot spot. She was trying all different types of things, satellite, you name it. It just wasn't good enough for this type of environment.
Angie Douglas: I am excited about the new satellite options that are coming out in the future, though.
Jody Grunden: Yeah, they're not here yet.
Angie Douglas: Yeah maybe we want to get a bigger van and hit the road again.
Jamie Nau: So other than internet and any other tips that you've found to really help you Angie? I'm going back to like the nomad life when you were driving around. Any tips at that point that really saved you from time to time?
Angie Douglas: Like Mikala said, don't own things. Also don’t get a dog.
Jody Grunden: Yeah, pets would be kind of tough if you're driving around the around the country.
Jamie Nau: So I'm going to throw it back over to you Mikala. So you talked a little bit about, you know, living in three locations in the last year. So talk a little bit about some of those transitions. And again, we talked about internet quite a bit, but, you know, finding a place to live and finding all that stuff, what are the other things that you think about? Obviously, people know how to move, but when you're doing it that frequently, any other things people need to think about if they plan on living that lifestyle?
Mikala Page: One other thing that I always try to figure out before I move somewhere is where in the house or apartment I'm going to work. So normally I don't see a location until I get there. So flipping through the AirBNB listing or whatever I am searching on I think, okay could I set up there? Because the first place we moved to was Myrtle Beach, and I ended up working at the dining room table, which wasn't necessarily bad because my roommate was on the night shift. So she wasn't really home during the day. But when she was home during the day, it's like, the blender was on or something, and you don't think about that kind of stuff. Sometimes I would work on our porch and then cars are going by all the time, or a giant semi-truck goes by. So the last few places I've been lucky and actually have an extra bedroom that I can shut the door, or block out all the noise. So have a little corner or a basement.
Jody Grunden: Yeah, I think the door is hugely important. I mean, typically we tell people that you really need to have a door in order to work remotely. You can't do it on the kitchen table. You can't have the couch. You can do it, but it's very difficult, very distracting, especially if you have kids or if you have a significant other that's there or you know, mom or dad or whatever. It's really, really tough. Barking dog. That the environment is tough. But the other thing is quitting work. Hey, when do I stop working? If you have the kitchen table, it's just so easy where at eight o'clock at night, you pop back on and start doing work or even later. And that's not healthy either, right? So you want to make sure that you can shut the door when you're done with work. You know, work's done. It limits the urge. I don't know what kind of psychological phenomenon is, but it definitely helps manage work life balance I think a lot better, having that door versus, like you said, a kitchen table or a couch, because you'd be working all the time.
Jamie Nau: I've heard of people having a desk all set up in their bedroom. You roll over in the morning and it's five o'clock, you're like, I really should be working on that report for the client. That’s not going to work. That's craziness. So Angie I'm going to throw it over to you now. I'm sure a lot of people are really interested in the van set up. I know I worked with you quite a bit during the time when you were in the van and there were definitely some lessons learned early on. It was good to see you, and see the horse behind you or whatever. I think you really perfected it. So talk through that process a little bit, and what are some of the mistakes you made, but also where you ended up where it really got quite comfortable.
Angie Douglas: First, we did have a separate bedroom. Our van is two stories it has a pop up. So it's really nice to have that separate sleeping area because who wants to work in their bedroom? We never perfected the two people in a meeting in a small space.
Jody Grunden: Because you guys both worked remotely?
Angie Douglas: Yes, and if you both had a meeting at the same time, that was hard. But people were tolerant. Be on mute. But the main thing was not moving that often. We weren't road tripping during this time. We were at one place for a week or two. Going to North Dakota we thought oh, this will be great. We're just popping up from South Dakota. We get there on a Saturday, and we tried five different campgrounds that weekend and realize we couldn’t find internet, but we still had time to drive a few hours to get a hotel that we knew would work. So not expecting to just be out and about doing things, and knowing that if you're somewhere you're not going to be doing things after work. The chores list gets big. You don't have a dishwasher. I had to manually make my coffee. So those things just took a long time. But man, on the weekends, you're just in these amazing locations that you can go explore all weekend and it makes it worthwhile.
Jamie Nau: Now am I correct in remembering that at one point Angie, there was one time where your husband was driving and you were actually trying to have a meeting while he was driving? Am I remember that correctly?
Angie Douglas: Yes, that’s absolutely happened. I needed to be somewhere and the desk was set up with the van window in the background. So yes, driving down the interstate for a phone call. The trees whipping by. It happened more than once.
Jamie Nau: And you would not recommend that?
Angie Douglas: No, I would not recommend that. You're just hoping that the internet doesn't go out because, you know, cell phone coverage isn't perfect.
Jody Grunden: Oh, yeah, for sure. I've got a question for you. I mean, I'm pretty outgoing. I think Jamie's pretty outgoing. You guys are very outgoing. Does this work for you?
Angie Douglas: We are, kind of in the end recluses, we don't mind spending all of our time together. We're definitely like best friends first. So being able to explore all these places together and because you don't have the family network and you don't have the friend network when you're out on the road. But I wouldn't recommend doing it by yourself. That would be lonely.
Mikala Page: Yeah, I could definitely not do it by myself. I feel like I kind of go in phases where I do like being by myself, but I am going on a trip to Kroger just to get some social interaction. So I am really fortunate that the traveling nurse is one of my best friends, and her schedule is kind of crazy too. So if she wants to go out on a weekend or something, we are both normally available for that, or we like hanging out so we don't get tired of each other. But it would be really hard to do this by yourself because it would get just addicting to work maybe 10, 11 hours a day. And then if you're by yourself on a weekend, it's hard to motivate yourself to go out and do something social for yourself. At least it would be for me.
Jamie Nau: So when you're in that new city, how do you go about meeting people? I mean, obviously you have your roommate with you, but how else do you do it?
Mikala Page: A lot of the people that we meet end up being people she meets at work. With the coronavirus it has been kind of difficult to be sociable. So we haven't met many people in Colorado. But when we were in Baltimore and in Myrtle Beach a lot of the people were other nurses.
Jamie Nau: We’ve talked about doing lunch when you're out here, and I'm too scared with the coronavirus, but we can go to restaurants now. So we need to definitely do lunch here. It's on record now. How about you Angie, in terms of meeting people? I know that you really are doing a lot of outdoor locations, and doing a lot of outdoor stuff. But have you had any luck, or tips on meeting people at locations you go to?
Angie Douglas: I don't know that I've met anybody since we've hit the road. The nice thing though is that I can go to Seattle. I can go to Oregon for a week, a month, and visit my friends and visit my family and not have to take a vacation to do it.
Jody Grunden: Wasn't it in Seattle that you lived on a houseboat for a little while?
Angie Douglas: We spent six months on the houseboat there, which was amazing. I actually didn't know if my husband got seasick. He'd never been on a boat before and I signed a six month lease. Luckily, he actually found it quite soothing because it was a very rocky boat.
Jamie Nau: So any tips for the boat? I mean I want to make sure we cover all the options here. We’ve covered driving down the street. We've covered the moving. What about the boat? Anything special that came out of that experience?
Angie Douglas: The good thing is the boat didn't move. It was just docked at the marina. But dealing with a black water tank, that was our first experience. So that was interesting. There was only one explosion. It gave a new meaning to a deck on a boat.
Jody Grunden: I've got a question for you, kind of turning it back to the business side of things. How do your clients, I mean, what do they think? Or do they even know that you're traveling around? Do they ask questions? What’s their take on things?
Angie Douglas: Luckily we work with a lot of really young, cool clients. So most of them knew, and they all thought it was really cool. It gave us a nice opening at meetings like where are you this week?
Jody Grunden: How about you Mikala?
Mikala Page: I kind of feel like it was the same way. It just kind of a joke. At one point I was in a different location for three weeks in a row, and one of my clients is like, where are you this week? I just wanted to be like in a different bedroom in the same place just to keep it going for a little bit. But yeah, I think it's fun and I think it also helps gives you something to talk about with the client besides work. And I found that was so important, just for even casual meetings, the last half hour or just touching base say oh what are you doing? How are your grandkids? It gives you something to talk about besides how much money you have in the bank.
Jody Grunden: No pushback from clients at all?
Angie Douglas: I think the main thing is it did put more pressure on myself, the same with the internet, like I can't have it go out because you know I'm in a national park. Making sure I get all of my deliverables on time for the client, because they know I'm kind of outgoing. So making sure that I'm servicing them 100 percent because once they know that they're going to be less likely to give you any wiggle room.
Jody Grunden: Yeah because it's easy to blame. It's like, oh she didn't get it because she's traveling…
All: Laughing [in audible]
Mikala Page: I think that’s a really good point. I was just going to say that it's not a vacation. You think when you're traveling that you are going to do all this stuff. And people even ask me now, like, oh, what have you done? And I am like, I have been working. I'm in a new place, but it's the same stuff in a different location. I'm still working. I'm still studying, I'm still doing all other stuff it's just a different background.
Jody Grunden: It's basically your weekend, right? The weekend is where you are doing stuff and having fun.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, that's a great point. So my kids used to be in a year round school. We used to go to Arizona every January for like a month. So would work out of Arizona for a month, and for the first couple times I did it, especially the first couple of days I am there with family, and they are like, oh, let's go hiking today. And I am like, well, no, I have these three calls and I'm working from this time on every day. They thought I was there on vacation. So it's definitely unique when you have a family because, you know, similar to where you dealt with like, I was in a bedroom in one house we stayed in and I was there all day. And then I come out at like 4:00 or 5:00 and then I'd hang out with the kids and do all the fun stuff. But you still have to make sure you're working when you do take advantage of that lifestyle for sure.
Jody Grunden: I remember when we were just starting out how I go to a baseball game and I would be in the stands and I'd have my computer up and I'd be on video and I'd be going through a meeting with a client while watching a baseball game. Or finding a corner at a hockey rink that actually had internet that was kind of difficult sometimes. But doing the exact same thing, during intermission pop out and have a have a quick 30 minute call with the client. That was a common thing, as we were really kind of working through how to work distributed and clients loved it. Kind of adding to what you both said, they thought it was interesting, you know, they would ask how's the game going? You know, it was like they just wanted to be part of your experience, which was really cool.
Jamie Nau: As long as you were prepared, right? Like if you were sitting there not understanding the numbers and looking really confused the whole time, they wouldn’t have thought that was cool. But the fact that you were prepared for it and jumped in. I've done the same thing, you know, coaching my son as well. I've had to jump off for an hour. I’ll be at a basketball tournament and answer some phone calls. But again, as long as you're sitting there really interacting with them and not looking disorganized.
Angie Douglas: Yeah you definitely have to be on your A game.
Jamie Nau: So any equipment tips? One that I'd like to throw out there is headsets. Mikala you mentioned earlier about the blender being on in the room, and having your mute button nearby is really important. But any other type of tips in terms of equipment other than the side monitor and the other things we have talked about?
Angie Douglas: My router is really important.
Jody Grunden: Yeah that is something I am jotting down for sure. I could use a good router.
Angie Douglas: Getting noise canceling headphones and a microphone that doesn't pick up the entire room.
Jody Grunden: Oh, yeah, and everybody's had those before. A lot of times you think the Beats or whatever and you think, oh, this is great, and then you can hear everything going on everywhere.
Angie Douglas: Whenever my headset goes funky I have to use my camera speaker and that thing picks up the whole room and it just doesn't work.
Jamie Nau: We were we were selling our house once while working at Summit and I had to take a couple of calls from Chick-Fil-A because they had the free Wi-Fi and everybody could hear everything. I didn't use my big headset. I just had like the normal Beats headset with the earbuds, and people are like, I can hear everything that everyone's saying behind you. So it took me a while to get used to that for sure.
Jody Grunden: So a good point is to be testing it out before you for pop on a call.
Mikala Page: I was also going to say I love having a good tech backpack. Just being able to keep everything in one space. I know everything has a place in my backpack and exactly how to pack it up every single time. So that's my office. If it doesn't fit in my backpack, then it doesn't come with me because there's too much stuff.
Angie Douglas: We have an office in a box in the van for the very same thing.
Jody Grunden: I've got the same thing, a tech backpack. I travel a ton. Not recently with COVID, everything has kind of slowed down my travel time. I'm on the road typically at least one, maybe two weeks out of the month. And that backpack's huge because like you said, you've got everything in the same place. You don't forget anything because you know where it belongs, you know where it should be. And going from hotel to hotel, or in your case, Airbnb or, you know, moving van or whatever, it's important to have all that together so that you don't misplace things because that wordy thing is popping into a new location, not knowing your surroundings. Then you forget your headset at the last place, or your power cord you know, that type of thing.
Jamie Nau: Quality is super important too. I don't travel nearly as much as Jody, but I travel quite a bit. I remember the first backpack I had, it lasted like four trips before the seams starting bursting. You could see the laptop sticking out the one corner of it. I was like, I guess I should have updated.
Jody Grunden: I think I gave you that one actually…
All: Laughing [inaudible]
Jody Grunden: I went through like three backpacks within a year, not good.
Angie Douglas: Then for van life specifically, beyond the internet, the power consumption was a very interesting thing because we were on solar and it was shocking the difference in monitors and what power they draw. I was using a little mini PC with two full sized screens, because I can't do a laptop, it's too little.
Jody Grunden: Yeah, I wouldn't have thought of that.
Jamie Nau: Cool. So we're almost out of time here. So I want to give Angie and Mikala, one last time, any final thoughts or things that people should know? I'm sure there's a lot of people listening to this today thinking oh, that sounds cool. But I want to make sure that they've thought of everything. So any final thoughts?
Angie Douglas: Definitely research before you go out, read about people. Not bloggers, they don't count on van life. They are not working eight hours a day and having client meetings. So find people that are really working on the road and see what they're doing, because it's not all roses and sunshine. It's fun, but it's a lot of work. That's why I've been in a house for a year.
Jody Grunden: Taking a break from the traveling.
Mikala Page: I would just say plan ahead, know what you're getting yourself into before you get there. Plan for Wi-Fi, and go with somebody so it's more fun.
Jamie Nau: Great. Well, I definitely appreciate you guys taking the time to join us today. I think this was a really fun podcast. I really appreciate it.
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Episode 26 - Summit CPA employees Angie Douglas & Mikala Page talk about traveling while working remotely 👉 https://ctt.ec/nwCcO+
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