COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work. During the pandemic’s height in the UK (April 2020), 46% of workers did some of their work from home. Workers have been slow to return to their old working habits in recent months, too, and the trend looks like it's set to continue in the future.
With employees showing that they can work remotely just as effectively, the case for being tied to one physical location is getting weaker and weaker. And with the introduction of ‘travel corridors’ in recent months, it’s not surprising that some remote workers are tempted by the prospect of working abroad in more exotic climes. Countries like Barbados, for example, have been quick to spot an opportunity. With their tourism industry struggling due to COVID-19, they have introduced a year-long work visa to attract remote workers from across the world.
So, has the time finally come for working abroad? Let’s find out.
The Benefits of Working Abroad
First of all, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of working abroad. Many of these benefits overlap with the wider benefits associated with remote working, but there are further factors too:
This is a serious and growing problem for employees, and work-life balance has never been so important. As well as the profound individual benefits it brings, there are business reasons to consider too: mental health problems account for a large number of lost working days throughout the year, and workers are also less productive due to these problems. Happier, healthier employees with an enhanced work-life balance will, therefore, benefit the company’s bottom line.
As well as the greater work-life balance associated with other forms of remote working, those who work abroad will experience further mental health benefits. They will be able to broaden their horizons and live life to the fullest: filling their evenings and weekends with exciting travel opportunities. For example, just imagine a weekday spent working on a sunny cafe terrace in Florence before exploring all the cultural riches the city has to offer.
Some workers may have been previously tempted by a freelance, digital nomad lifestyle that would allow them to pursue their individual travel dreams. Or they could have been enticed to work for foreign companies. By giving employees the opportunity to work remotely in a different country, these temptations will be less compelling. Companies will be more able to keep valued employees, as their wanderlust will no longer be a problem.
The Negatives to Working Abroad
Although working abroad has many potential benefits, both for the individual workers involved and the company at large, this optimism has to be tempered with some of the potentially more negative aspects:
In the age of group Zoom calls, companies are more equipped to communicate remotely than ever before. But virtual communication is not perfect. There’s no way past it: face-to-face communication is best, and it’s through meeting together in groups that company culture and camaraderie can be developed and strengthened. Working abroad detracts from this: company culture will be more disconnected, with workers physically isolated from each other in different corners of the world.
On a related note, the mental health benefits of working abroad must be considered alongside the negatives. Workers will be even more isolated from their colleagues, potentially impacting their day-to-day happiness as well as individual relationships.
Sadly, working abroad isn’t as simple as taking your laptop on a plane and waving goodbye. Depending on how long you’ll be abroad, you may need to sort out tax and visa issues. If workers are planning to go abroad for an extended period, this can be an extra headache for employers as well as employees. Some workers may prefer shorter trips to a number of different locations, of course. And although they may have to go on these short working trips by themselves, they are actually part of a growing trend: solo travel has reportedly increased threefold since 2011.
The idea of working from anywhere in the world, free of geographical restrictions, is no longer an impossible dream. The possibility is becoming increasingly realistic, and the potential benefits are considerable. As with so much else, however, this issue is not completely black and white. There are potential issues and details that need to be considered, and it’s fair to say that this mode of work will not be to everyone’s tastes.
About the Author: Ellie Hayes has written for a number of publications, both online and in print, focusing on issues related to health, lifestyle and transport.