Portugal, Barbados, Thailand. Where do your retirement dreams take place? And how would you feel if you could get halfway to that sun-kissed lifestyle while still working? With modern technology that dream lifestyle could be closer than you think.
If you live and/or work in London or any other large UK city, commuter gloom is a way of life. Crammed carriages are the norm and ticket prices are universally grudged – and only ever seem to increase regardless of the service offered. Take a Brighton to London railway season ticket; depending on whether you’re happy to be restricted to Thameslink services or not, you’ll pay around £4-5K per year. That’s a lot of money – just to get to the office.
But by planning travel in advance, four grand pays for a lot of flights. Air travel? Yes, air travel. The rise of the Internet and telecoms technologies, together with the UK’s high cost of housing, has motivated a large number of workers to become overseas commuters. They come in three main types:
· Regular commuter. Instead of doing an hour each way every day, they travel 4-5 hours twice a week. They may work in the UK Monday to Thursday (they’ll stay with friends, in a small apartment, or find rooms through AirBnB) and go home to family for the weekend.
· Self-employed. Many self-employed people only need to meet clients occasionally. They can run their business and carry on work from almost anywhere.
· Corporate global employee. They travel regularly anyway so they may as well choose a base abroad. These people enjoy working or living in their dream home aboard while servicing clients in the UK.
However, before picturing yourself sending emails while sipping orange juice squeezed from fruit on branches overhanging your terrace, think about the technology required and the cost.
The UK is (mostly) pretty good for broadband, but it’s not always available where you think it should be abroad; France, for example, can be pretty patchy. That’s not to say you have to give up on freshly baked croissant; this is thanks to the rapid growth of mobile data in countries where traditional infrastructure is more limited, and the change in roaming charging in 2017 means mobiles and data dongles can be used anywhere within the EU without extra charge, and this will help cap costs. Although Brexit could change that – so when you make your plans, do bear that in mind.
If you don’t want to wait until 2017, or if your new base is outside the EU, then VoIP apps for around £10 a month allow you to have a UK number both for incoming and outgoing calls. No one even needs to know you’re not in the country.
Another boost for remote workers is the dramatic fall in the cost of professional voice and video conferencing. There are plenty of packages to choose from, and as long as the person you want to connect with has a web cam on their device, there’s no need for them to install special software. Good quality packages can be had for around £30 a month.
A few words of caution regarding Skype. Yes, it’s free, but your client will need to be happy using it, and many people have had far from satisfactory experiences; repeated drop out or garbling may not matter to your cousin in Sydney, but expect a client in Croydon to be less forgiving. Remember, you’ll be saving on housing and commuting, so the cost of robust broadband, VoIP and video conferencing/collaboration is well worth including in your budget.
If more than one of you is working remotely, the advent of cloud storage—such as Dropbox—means files can be readily shared and worked on without the need for a server. Again the cost is low – around £100 per year.
So what are the challenges?
Can anything replace a face to face meeting to build a relationship? Perhaps remote working isn’t the best plan for a start-up, but an established business where clients are already settled and new ones come through recommendation is unlikely to find distance a barrier to continued success.
There could be time difference issues if you stray too far away from Greenwich Mean Time; you don’t want to be working odd hours that prevent you enjoying the lifestyle you moved for.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for smaller companies is managing their staff. It requires a lot of trust and a team that won’t resent turning up in the snow and rain to read those emails you typed sipping your freshly-squeezed juice.
There are ways around any challenges, and I regularly work from my ‘office’ in Spain enjoying the sunshine while the UK is drenched in rain. But if you’re finding it difficult to get your head around living and working in a different country from your clients, consider this: Normandy is geographically closer to London than Cumbria.
Image Credit: John Fraissinet / Flickr
Dave Millett, independent telecoms expert from Equinox