Working 'Far Far' away from Home
Ever thought of working ‘remotely’ from the other side of the world? Does the idea of a little village in the south of France over the summer, being your ‘work from home’ location spark pictures of laughter, good-times, long lunches under the Mediterranean sun, mini excursions with delighted family members?
Perhaps your draw card is a steady stream of croissants, a damn fine baguette with camembert and champagne being available whenever you like?
Wherever your ‘dream’ location may be, let’s just say things are never as simple or as great as they seem. Working remotely – especially on the other side of the world is not easy and comes with its share of challenges.
Let me share with you a little summary on ‘what to and what not to do’ when (or if) you ever decide to pack your bags, kids, 3 laptops and clothing for all occasions and work remotely – from the other side of the world.
1. Be prepared (for every possible scenario)
The internet doesn’t work – what do you do? You urgently need to make a phone call and don’t have the contact details handy? Last minute meeting or agenda changes (in the middle of the night) only to wake up and find out the meetings been cancelled/moved/or is starting the very moment you check you phone in the morning. (Better get out of your pyjamas quick!)
My client’s time zones were 6 and 8 hours ahead of mine. This meant that I needed to be on my feet – always. Sunday night was reserved for sending emails and preparing for Monday (local time) and, early mornings were meeting slots to catch everyone during working hours.
Pop over to Spain for a long weekend – make sure that have a quiet and comfortable working space, solid internet connection and babysitting isn’t as obvious as you would think.
Just by being physically distant from your project/colleagues is hard, being in the past/or future (depending on your location) can be a blessing and a curse.
You can’t just pick up the phone or text, send a Teams when you feel like it – however, how cool is it that a client asked you to do something one day, they go to bed, and boom! In the inbox the next day for review – that’s golden!
2. You can’t travel as freely as you would think
This was not a surprise for me – but just adding it here for those of you that thought that every weekend was filled with little getaways in a foreign and exotic location. In short, this rarely happened.
Once you add all the time that goes into researching the location, where to stay (everything is booked anyways as it is summer, and Europeans have been locked up for 2 years and have taken all the nice places) and how to get there (every flight is already booked out and car hire is astronomically priced) – it’s just easier to stay put.
The same location, just like where you call home, does get a little boring after a few months.
3. Escape routes
Some of us had a harder time over the last few years than others (the Covid); but keep in mind the dynamics in your relationships if you work remotely in a foreign country. Once you add a different language, a different culture, kids, in-laws, the stress of just not being in your own home with your usual things – it is bound to cause a bit of friction.
Find ways to escape. Co-working spaces worked for me. Not only do you enjoy bottomless coffees, but you get the much-needed time away from the home office, family and those who are driving you a little batty.
I tried a few in the villages I stayed in – they were superb and a great way to support local and small business.
4. Technology woes
You would think in the year 2023 we have got this sorted. Here are some of my tech lowlights:
Microsoft365 and all the authentications by phone or text got old as I worked for various clients with different accounts (including my own). A dual-sim phone would have been the way to go.
Online applications that you access via a firewall. Guess what? IP addresses are usually blocked by IT departments so when you go into that online app you use, it doesn’t work. A few calls to very jealous IT admins get you the access you need but you need to explain your situation to everyone! Laptop warrior
Pro-Tip: A VPN is worth the investment.
IT admins pinging you and your manager that you (your device) are in a country that it shouldn’t be in
The Internet just being unreliable. I managed to get a local SIM with a huge data per month to mitigate this. It was a lifesaver but confusing when you contact people, and they have no idea who you are (new number).
5. The background
I always had a nice quiet spot to work. What you don’t take into consideration is the background noise that most people (including you) wouldn’t be too familiar with at 5am when you are somewhere ‘different’. My most noteworthy, needing a detailed explanation moments –
- Crete (Greece) mountain goats bleating and their bells around their necks – who knew the shepherds took their livestock out at this time of the morning.
- Dinard (France) some sort of seabird (?) that had lungs, deciding that it was time to find its future partner whilst I was on a weekly project stand up.
Other times, I had to be let into conference centres in airport hotels, and camping sites by some grumpy staff member at 5am – this was not fun for anyone!
6. For those with children…
Everyone said: “Oh it will be a great experience for them. They will come back bilingual”.
Reality: ’Back home” everything is set up. After school care, activities, playdates, friends, routines. Your child is lost and looking at you all the time for what to do!
So, what do you do to occupy your very curious and energetic child? We learned the hard way. It took about 3 weeks to ensure our daughter was enrolled in summer vacation care organised by the ‘Marais’ [village council] and had some sort of activity planned each day of the week.
It bought us all some respite and also, able to focus on the 4-month-old who needed different hands on care. If you use babysitters, this is something you will need to think about when abroad, who is going to step in to give you / your partner that needed break?
For all of you that joined a conference call with me over the last 3 months and you asked me where I was and what I was doing (thinking it was amazing and spectacular to be on the other side of the world) or you were one of the lucky ones who heard the mating call of the sea bird- the truth was I was just battling the daily grind just like you.
In most ways it was harder, but like all things that are difficult it was so great to experience the culture, diversity and difference in lifestyle that living in another country brings.
Here are some of the photos of my various ‘offices’ over the last few months – until next time…from somewhere else…
Elizabeth Pouret is an independent consultant and coach working with business teams and individuals on projects that make a difference. When she’s not working with awesome teams and people, you can find her planning (or plotting) the next adventure.