Home is where the heart is. But, thanks to internet and telecoms technologies, for many people, home is also where their work is. And for an increasing number of work-from-homers, that home isn’t in the UK.
These people who are relocating abroad can be split into three main types:
The regular commuter who instead of doing an hour each way every day – does 4/5 hours twice a week. Perhaps working in the UK Monday to Thursday and staying with friends or in a small apartment and then going home to family for the weekend.
The self-employed business person who only needs to meet clients occasionally and can run their business and carry on work from anywhere.
The corporate global employee who is regularly travelling anyway and might as well have their base anywhere
So what technology does the global remote worker need to fulfil this different type of lifestyle and what does it cost?
Firstly, broadband is not always available where you think it is abroad. However, this is being addressed with the rapid growth of mobile data in countries where traditional infrastructure is more limited. If Europe is to be your base, the change in roaming charging in 2017—meaning that mobiles and data dongles can be used anywhere without extra charge—will help cap costs. Of course, if the UK votes to leave the EU that might well change but so then will many other factors affecting the overseas worker.
Assuming you have managed to secure reasonable broadband access and don’t want to wait until 2017 or are outside the EU, then VoIP apps for around £10 a month let you have a UK number both for incoming and outgoing calls. So even when you call clients you can appear to be in UK.
Thirdly the cost of professional voice and video conferencing plus collaboration packages has fallen dramatically. Plus there are plenty to choose from with most allowing you to connect with anyone that has a web cam on their chosen device and no need to install special software. The more sophisticated ones will include screen and document sharing as well as whiteboarding. Some good quality ones can be had for around £30 a month.
So what are the challenges?
Can anything replace a face to face meeting to build a relationship? Probably not. But for an established business, where clients are already settled and new ones come through recommendation, changing location needn’t be a problem.
Time differences can be tricky if you stray too far away from Greenwich Mean Time – do you want to be working odd hours to fit in with the UK’s 9 to 5?
Probably the largest challenge is managing staff whilst not in the UK. It requires a lot of trust and having the right people who won’t resent UK snow and rain while you’re emailing them from a sun-kissed terrace. Perhaps there needs to be a period of adjustment with gradually less time spent in the UK as everyone adapts.
The size of the world is getting smaller and someone working in Normandy is geographically closer to London than someone in Cumbria. In addition, travelling can be cheaper abroad; I recently travelled to Malaga with BA for less than a train journey I took too Sheffield. The journey times were the same too.
So, overall, with improving and cheaper technology it is likely these ‘working anywhere’ trends will continue.
Dave Millett wrote this article from his house in Spain, he divides his time between his office in London and his place in Spain.