For some, the ultimate work-life balance is working from home while living abroad. Research by Bergerac Airport, in South-West France, found almost one in five British residents in the region were commuting back to work in the UK. With the ever increasing speed and consistency (for some people this can be more important than speed) of internet connectivity, a seamless connection to the office server can be within anyone's reach. Even in the wilds of Lozère (the least populated area in France), a Satellite dish will instantly connect you with the office via video call, phone, email or VOIP.
Although I don't live near Bergerac, I lived as a 'Euro Commuter' for several years, based near Béziers near the Mediterranean and spending around 75% of my time at my desk in France, with the remainder back in the UK office as a Marketing Manager for a large country estate.
Let’s face it, it seems fairly idyllic?! but there are pitfalls
1.Workload - without the distraction of meetings, water-cooler chats and office banter, the home-working hours are intense. Research shows that working remotely can often mean longer hours to compensate for physical absence (see note 3!)
2. Frustration - not having immediate access to paperwork, locations or people
3. Resentment - colleagues may have visions of you basking on the beach drinking cocktails during working hours (I wish!)
4. Exhaustion - regular travel and living out of temporary accommodation means never being in a place long enough to feel rested
5. Training - reduced time and access for professional development and in-house training
Then there are some of the many advantages
1. A better state of mind - enabling someone to spend quality time in their personal life will improve well-being and overall performance
2. Flexible working hours - once both homeworker and employer agree acceptable hours, time management is vastly improved
3. Daily efficiency - without a commute and distraction of meetings, focus and productivity are enhanced
4. Environment - reduced emissions, personalised workspace, time with family ... (this can be quite a lengthy list!)
5. Personal development - new cultures and experiences can lead to fresh initiatives and ideas, or better, alternative working practices
After a few years in my remote working role, I realised how many freelance and remote workers in France were facing the challenges of working from home, and I started a regional coworking ‘Jelly’ group. This has developed into a community of international homeworkers (predominantly English speakers) that occasionally meet in coffee shops and coworking spaces to learn more about each other's businesses, offer support and discuss ways to help each other. Some come along simply for a change of scenery, while doing exactly what they would have done at home - for others it’s for business development or to seek out partners for future projects.
In the past few years, online resources for remote workers here in France have developed too, but they are (understandably) only available in French. There are very few platforms where an English speaking professional in France can find reliable and impartial information to help and support them. Consequently, a large number of social networking groups have emerged. Unfortunately, the risk with these groups, is that a lot of speculative, inaccurate and conflicting information can be shared.
In 2008, I was extremely fortunate that my employer enabled me to work freelance and from overseas. When I and many others started working remotely, there were very few guidelines as to how to approach it. I am sure that I was not the only homeworker to feel that I had to be on call 18 hours a day to reassure my colleagues I wasn’t on a permanent jolly. In the beginning, time management and scheduling for meetings and commuting was a challenge, but once a routine was established, the advantages proved themselves to be huge. The French rural lifestyle has always been close to my heart, and along with the reduced stress, I knew I had made the right decision.
Looking at the 5 pitfalls and 5 advantages above, I realise they cross reference and overlap in several ways. The conclusion must therefore be that the tools are out there, and more readily available than ever, to enable a number of employees in certain roles to spend a percentage of their time working abroad. However, many remote working agreements are individual and experimental – so absolute trust and discipline are key factors to ensure success on both sides.
In some way, all of those that embrace remote working from a foreign country are pioneers. For the benefit of all concerned, let's keep pushing that frontier.
http://lafranglaiseweb.com works with clients around the world from her base in southern France. www.languedocjelly.org is run by a group of volunteers supporting homeworkers and promoting coworking and networking opportunities in the area.