What You Need to Know about Working Remotely Abroad

February 23, 2018  | By Aidan Griffin

Last August, I penned a blog about my recent move to Ireland and my excitement both personally and professionally, and for Ketner Group as we continue to expand our international client base. I’ve been incredibly lucky to find myself in this situation. It’s been a life-changing move that has lived up to every expectation.

For me, the hardest part of starting to work remotely from another country wasn’t deciding where to go – Irish citizenship made that easy (thanks, Dad). It wasn’t convincing my boss to let me do it – the leadership team at Ketner Group were my biggest supporters. Rather, the hardest part was learning how to keep up the same level of productivity that being in the office every day encouraged.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to work remotely or how to quit your job and travel the world. But for those lucky enough – and I mean lucky enough, because maintaining a full-time salaried income while living remotely is a blessing – to work abroad for companies based in their home countries, there are ten things I think you should know before you get started.

1. Be indispensable

This is somewhat of a guiding principle that makes the whole thing work, and it starts well before any exploration of remote work can start. If you want your boss to give you the green light to pack up and move across the world, they need to know that you’re dedicated to helping the company, your clients and your colleagues succeed. Yes, this move is about your personal journey, but it’s made possible by those at home. Put in great work, be trustworthy and reliable, and never lose sight of the work part of work abroad.

2. Full-time can’t mean all the time

However, once it’s in your head that you need to keep kicking ass to make this arrangement work, it can be easy to take it too far. Greg Caplan, one of the founders of Remote Year, says “remote workers actually work more hours. The time they’re working is focused, because they have the flexibility to do whatever, whenever.”

That’s the blessing and the curse of remote work. No one walks into your office to distract you but there is also no ‘closing time’ where everyone goes home. Those emails keep coming, and you just absolutely have to learn to close your laptop and move on with your life at the end of the day.

3. Time zones are your frenemy

For anyone moving east or west to live abroad, time zones can be a massive adjustment. In Ireland, I have until 3 p.m. before the rest of my team logs on, and I rarely get an email before noon. I can’t lie. This is amazing. I get to sit down and just… work. No fire drills. No meetings. No giphy threads dropping on Slack. It’s just so easy to get work done!

It’s also just as easy to not start work. No one knows when you sign on, so why wake up when it’s still dark out? What’s 5 more minutes in bed? And at the end of the day, when I’m wrapping up the day’s tasks, way more are coming in from my American teams. An urgent client question here, a quick review of a document for a coworker there, and boom, it’s 7 o’clock. And Lord knows, dinner ain’t going to cook itself. Do we have Uber Eats in this country??

4. Create a routine or destroy it; there is no middle ground

Working remotely from another time zone gives you the flexibility to really work whenever you want, as long as the work gets done. Of course, one of the reasons office life is hard is that sometimes, you just don’t have it on a given day. At home, you can take that brain-dead, useless-to-society time and do laundry, hit the gym, take a nap, or go down wormholes trying to figure out how in the world the Flat Earth movement has gotten so popular. This is an endless wormhole, there is no good answer.

But because it’s so easy to get distracted when no one is around to get you back on track, you need to decide whether you’re a no-routine person who can snap out of it and get everything done at 11 p.m. when your brain comes around, or if you need to just suck it up and persevere on a regular schedule. I found out I need the schedule. The sooner you realize which person you are the better. Floundering in the middle is a death sentence.

5. Use Your Breaks Wisely

Part of that schedule includes breaks. No one can sit still for 8 hours and crank out press releases. But use your breaks wisely. In the office, a break can mean checking Facebook or reading sports scores. Maybe you take a walk around the block. It’s really important to disengage from work so you can refocus, but at home, these breaks can get long in a hurry.

During work hours, it’s best to put away the phone, save reading articles about the wine revolution in the NBA for lunch-time, and use breaks to maintain productivity that isn’t work related. Need a walk? Walk to the grocery store. Need to feel social? Call your parents who miss you (work is also a great excuse to hang up). Hungry? Make a snack that will fill you up enough that you don’t visit the fridge 14 more times that day. Being productive when you’re not working is a unique privilege to remote work, don’t waste it! You’ll be happy when the day is over or the weekend rolls around and those tasks are done.

6. Communicate thoroughly; not constantly

It can seem critical to over-communicate when working from the other side of the planet. Shoot, we preach that habit when we sit five feet away from each other! But that doesn’t mean constant chatter and emails is the answer. In fact, that’s a terrible way to communicate, and worse when you’re not in the room to explain context that gets lost in the written word.

It’s much more effective to schedule regular meetings with your internal teams to discuss everything live. Develop an agenda to guide the conversation and use this time to talk about all recent problems, identify upcoming deadlines, set goals, distribute responsibilities and brainstorm new ideas. Doing this all at once limits confusion, makes sure everyone is on the same page, and gives your teams the confidence that everything is running smoothly even though you’re not glued to your email after work hours in your time zone.

7. Pimp out your workspace

Having a dedicated, great workspace is key. Used to having a second screen to work from? Buy one. It’s worth the money. So is a good chair. And a desk. And a lamp. Put stuff on the walls and keep things organized. Your workspace needs to be somewhere that you just work. That’s it. Not the kitchen table, not the couch, definitely not the bed. Freedom to work from wherever you want is a great part of working remotely, but good scenery is a huge boost to productivity.

8. Shower, get dressed and eat breakfast immediately

Being viewed as a valuable member of society requires a few simple things. Part of that is having a job, looking like you have a job, and starting the day like someone with a job starts the day. If you don’t start the day right, it’s really hard to get started later. Laziness sets in fast; beat it to the punch.

9. Go outside

Leaving your apartment is the best thing for you. It might not seem like it when it’s raining sideways or freezing cold but the beauty of working from home is that you don’t ever have to in those conditions. But most days, at least for a little while, changing scenery and working from a coffee shop or library can really stimulate your brain. It’s also a really good way to see a new city and explore new neighborhoods. And if you get an unlimited mobile data plan, you can work from anywhere, from parks to pubs. A worthy investment indeed.

10. Take full advantage of being abroad

Working remotely abroad is a tremendous opportunity. Take advantage and get out of town as much as possible. Go see the small towns in your region, go hiking in mountains you’ve never heard of, visit museums and learn stories of movements or creatures you never knew existed. Get on a plane and go see cities on your bucket list and work from coffee shops in those places, exploring on weekends or at night. Why? Because now you can!