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I worked remotely from a cruise ship for almost a month and it was hard but I'm doing it again

Jamie Killin   

I worked remotely from a cruise ship for almost a month and it was hard but I'm doing it again
  • Tony Fernandes, CEO of UEGroup, managed his company from a cruise ship for 21 days.
  • Fernandes experienced challenges with slow internet and communication but found workable solutions.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Tony Fernandes, a 60-year-old founder and CEO of UEGroup based in San Francisco, about his experience working remotely on a cruise ship. It's been edited for length and clarity.

My wife and I are in the post-kid, post-pet phase of our lives. Our kids have gone off to college and we had a beloved dog and house rabbits that have passed away. After they passed, that really opened up a window for us to travel — and we did — but extended travel is new for us.

In November, I embarked on a trip where I spent several weeks leading my company from a cruise ship with my wife. We ultimately circumnavigated the globe on two different cruises and with air travel. Leaving California, we went through Europe, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan.

It's been a cool experience. But I found that while working on the ship, you do need some discipline — especially on a 21-day cruise.

You have to create a time for work and a time for play

We didn't realize it, but when we upgraded our internet, it upgraded our drinks package. So, it turned out we could get bottles of Moët & Chandon Champagne for free.

We had a couple of lunches and dinners where we enjoyed Champagne, but we also developed a rhythm where we had work time and playtime. It wasn't rigid — but there were times when my wife, who does finance at UEGroup, and I knew we had to get things done.

Working can set you apart from people who are on vacation. That doesn't mean you can't work in your bathing suit or have a beer before you start your work, but it puts you on a slightly different footing than some of the other people on the cruise.

Expect very slow internet service

One thing I didn't realize prior to the trip was that the cruise ship had only one satellite connection shared by thousands of people. The internet was oppressively slow at times.

For our next long trip, I'm looking into getting a data satellite phone so I can put an antenna on my patio facing the right direction for the satellite. I've still got to figure it out, but there were times when it was really important for us to communicate, and we couldn't.

We're now very mistrustful of statements the cruise lines make about the quality of their internet. For example, we upgraded our Internet, but it turned out the cruise line's definition of upgrading was that we could have more than one device, not that there was any better speed or reliability. You've got to read the fine print about how they define an upgrade.

I would also recommend asking what kind of download and upload speeds to expect.

Create a backup plan for meetings and other communication challenges

Internet access can be unpredictable even with research and planning ahead, so we had backup people for important meetings back at the office. If we weren't able to show up, there was someone prepared with the slide deck. I can't say it didn't create awkward moments at times — and it is one of the downsides — but you can plan for it the best you can.

When my wife was dealing with a bank and needed to get a two-factor authentication code without working SMS, there wasn't much she could do. So, that was a challenge as well.

At some points, I was forced to go ashore and buy SIM cards to leverage local cell service, but this requires research. Depending on the country there might only be one cellphone service that works there, or you might be able to get SIM card brands that work for a larger area.

Being offline can end up being a good thing

I find it hard to be offline, but because the connectivity was so bad sometimes, it just forced it to happen. We were in the middle of nowhere, and it wasn't going to change. In a way, being offline was good because I could just tune out.

My wife and I plan to cruise more in the future and even recently bought a home in Portugal near a cruise port that we're going to commute to using cruises as much as possible.

When we did the math, taking a cruise from California to Portugal was less than two business-class air travel tickets. Plus, you get meals, entertainment, and no jet lag — it seems like the way to go.

If you live or work on a cruise ship and would like to share your story, please email mlogan@businessinsider.com.


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