The remote worker goes by many names. Digital Nomad. Wi-fi vagrant. Dial-up bandit*. Jonny. They are the envy of the working world. For they have made the beach their boardroom, they’re working 5-9 (client availability permitting), they’ve swapped their desktop for a dongle, they are, to put it mildly, living the dream.
Or are they?
Frankly... yes. But does that mean remote working is easy? No. Doing it successfully is its own skill set. Doing it abroad? That’s practically an art form.
Does that mean you can't do it?
Of course not! Because we’ve spoken to the experts, we’ve done our research, we've spoken to remote WeSwap workers** and we’ve put together our top tips for remote working while abroad.
This sort of planning is two-fold, really. There are macro and micro considerations.
Part 1, Macro: If you’re choosing to work remotely, it’s useful to consider where in the world you’re going to settle. It may seem romantic to work atop a mountain in Peru, but is there Wi-Fi? New York is lovely this time of year, but do you want to choose between eating and heating? Nomadlist is a great source of information, all crowdsourced from 1000s of remote workers worldwide.
Part 2, Micro: Make sure you source an office before you arrive. Café, co-working space, spare room. Whatever. Just get somewhere with good internet. “Don’t just trust the Airbnb listing that says there’s Wi-Fi — ask the host what upload/download speeds are. Find out where the coffee shops or coworking spaces are, and test a couple different locations if you can, in case you need to relocate.” This is what Emily Triplett Lentz, Help Scout’s blog editor, and former remote worker says.
Life on the open road can be awful lonely. Just ask Jonny (WeSwap’s Lead Designer, currently working remotely from mainland Europe). For him, “the biggest challenge of remote working is the lack of face-to-face interaction with your colleagues. If you’ve been working meters from the same people day-in-day-out and then suddenly you’re not seeing them, you definitely get FOMO.”
How does he deal with this? “Making the time to keep in touch really helps. Luckily, with platforms like Slack, you can chat and goss and feel like you’re still in the loop. Or if you’ve had a quick video call, don’t rush off at the end - ask how things in the office are.”
Laboured pun aside, keeping track of your expenses is vital. But, it can get tricky when you’re dealing with multiple currencies and exchange rates. You’ll save time and money if you settle on a simple system to keep track of them.
It’ll come as little surprise that we’d recommend WeSwap’s own expense tagging system (which you can read about here) to help with that.
WeSwap does not endorse this level of commitment.
However, we do endorse benefitting from the freedom that working remotely gives you. Writer Amy M Hammad says you should ask yourself “do you work best first thing in the morning? Are you more alert around lunchtime? I prefer working early in the morning and immediately after lunch. I prioritise my important tasks for these periods and the less-important stuff for later in the day when I’m mentally fatigued.”
Jonny (the designer, remember) agrees: “If you’re trusted to work remotely, it’s safe to assume you’re trusted to manage your own workflow. As long as you’re smart about it and it won’t affect anyone else, there’s no harm in taking an extra half an hour here and there to move on to the next café to work from or explore a nearby neighbourhood. Basically, I stick to the concept of ‘don’t take the Michael’.”
When it comes to your finances, make you sure don’t get caught out by hidden fees. Using a foreign debit card can leave you racking up a lot of ATM charges, hidden exchange fees and commission charges. Make sure you leave home with a debit card that won’t charge you for withdrawals or set up a foreign bank account (local laws permitting).
At ATMs, if you’re given the option to be charged in your own currency or the local currency, always go local. If not you’ll be opting in for DCC (or Dynamic Currency Conversion), which can leave you liable to be charged some pretty outrageous exchange rates. Something we’re very against here at WeSwap (hence why we created this helpful quiz on it).
Getting a prepaid travel card that can save you up to 90% vs banks and bureaux and works in over 180 countries isn’t a bad idea either (*cough cough* this is us, WeSwap, our card does this *cough cough* click here to find out more *cough*).
If you’re outside of Europe, chances are you’re going to be on a different time zone to your colleagues or clients. This doesn’t need to be a huge issue, just be prepared for a few early morning/late night calls. Stephanie Walden, who was part of a Mashable program uniting global remote professionals in a yearlong lifestyle experiment, has some handy tips for dealing with this.
“For remote work that's particularly email-heavy, Boomerang is a helpful tool. Schedule emails to go out at specific times so you're not emailing your co-workers at 3am and set follow-up reminders so nothing slips through the cracks. [And] clearly communicating with your team about availability is key for business-as-usual in unusual circumstances.”
The year is 2018. Bow down to our new tech overlords.
By that, of course, we mean pack your adapters, download some apps and learn how to say: “Do you have Wi-Fi?” in another language.
“For connecting with co-workers and clients,” Stephanie Walden recommends “Google Hangouts, Slack, Skype, Speak and, for programmers, Github. For calls, Viber, WhatsApp and Talkatone are three of the most commonly used apps, and Telegram is another option that conveniently lets you access messages on multiple devices.”
While Katie Doyle at Balance Careers suggests noise cancelling headphones are key to concentration in a loud cafe. “Bose is the best-known brand for noise-cancelling headphones, but my Symphonized NRG in-ear noise-isolating earbuds do a pretty good job for a fraction of the price.”
Jonny (remember him? Designer? Europe? Kind eyes?) is keen on Slack too, “it helps me stay in touch with everyone in the office, and since I grew up with its grandfather, MSN Messenger, I’m familiar with how to use it.” For his projects, he’s a Trello guy, “my team uses it like a ticket system, so a brief comes in and works its way along the track, stage-by-stage until it’s completed.”
Due to the logistical difficulties that come with lugging a filing cabinet and printer around mainland Europe, he also relies on Google Docs and Google Sheets “to keep all our documents shared and editable by other stakeholders.”
*Two of these are not a thing.
**WeSwap designer, Jonny, is currently on a 3-month working tour of Europe. He was kind enough to take a break from his busy schedule (translation: sipping espressos in Milan and chugging Estrellas in Seville***) to give us some of his top-tips on working abroad.