Working very remotely while exploring Europe

Director Tracy Hickman has returned from two months of working while offshore. Here she shares the highlights and learnings, in case you are considering a similar trip.

Time to read: 6 mins

An idea forms 

Prior to 2020, my sister (Linda) and I both had cancer. That disclosure is important because the diagnosis altered our perspective on life. We have a greater appreciation of making the most of every day and taking every opportunity to live and have fun, ideally together! While Linda is UK-based and I live in New Zealand, we usually meet several times a year for short trips in England, Europe or further afield. 

After more than two years apart during the pandemic, I enjoyed two weeks in the UK with her for Christmas, but wanted a longer stay. Having spent the best part of two years working remotely from home, I reflected on barriers to doing it in a different time zone. The idea formed to spend a couple of months in Europe in an Airbnb, seeing friends and family, exploring new places and working, with my partner Paul. 

Helped by policy

The decision was made easier by the opening of New Zealand’s borders and, closer to home, the introduction of a Working Offshore Policy at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway in Auckland. The latter enables people to work remotely for up to two months, from anywhere in the world, subject to duration of service and performance criteria. The policy is intended to retain and support high-performing team members and so far, six staff have taken advantage of the opportunity.

My colleagues understood how important it was for me to see my sister and travel after a tough few years. Paul is a software engineer, so in theory his job can be done anywhere, and his colleagues were equally supportive.

Our travels

We set off for Germany in mid-June, starting with a week with friends while my sister and her husband travelled to our main destination, Annecy, France. The plan was to spend time together there, then meet again in the UK and Germany. However, despite a lot of planning and research, we hit a few speed bumps.

Two days before arriving in Annecy, our Airbnb host found bed bugs at the property. So, our booking was cancelled and we had a stressful 48 hours to find a replacement for a four-week booking. After much correspondence with Airbnb, we received a full refund and a discount voucher, and used that to book another property.

Unfortunately, that apartment also had bed bugs and Paul found a website showing that the region we were in was the bed bug capital of France. Neither apartment was low-cost, showing nightly rate is no indicator as to whether bed bugs may be present. Obtaining another refund and finding alternative accommodation was a huge distraction, let alone dealing with the psychological impacts. We became experts in how to check for the critters to avoid a reoccurrence.

Time with family was a welcome antidote and we enjoyed Annecy immensely. Unfortunately, we could not find long-term accommodation, so had an unscheduled three weeks in Thonon-Les-Bains, on the shore of Lake Geneva.

Thonon was a fantastic base, with a clean little apartment near the lake and running trails. The Tour de France rode past our building, and the Bastille Day fireworks were memorable. Our workdays comprised checking emails when we woke, usually around 6am (4pm NZ time), dealing with any correspondence or calls required and then going for a run around 9am. We’d work for a few more hours prior to a late-afternoon swim, dinner and delicious ice cream, and resume work in the late evening. I had a few 11pm (NZ 9am) calls and meetings, although I tried to do most calls in the mornings.

We were in Europe during a record-breaking heatwave, and while it was wonderful to cool off in the lake, 36 degrees is not ideal when working without air con.

We welcomed a cooler climate in England, and had fun with the youngest additions to the family, and my sister. All too soon it was time to bid farewell, and head back to Baden-Baden for a few days before flying home.

Annual leave and budget

Prior to the pandemic, I would never have imagined going overseas for two months, given limited annual leave and thinking it unaffordable. Working while away is a game changer, as it made the trip feasible. We both used slightly more annual leave than expected, due to the initial accommodation issues and difficulties working while travelling due to limited internet access. Paul usually works fulltime but took at least one day off a week and ended up using 14 days annual leave for the two-month trip.

Planning in advance, using apartments and mostly self-catering made the budget workable too. Flights are more expensive than pre-pandemic, although reasonably priced accommodation and lower food prices in Europe (compared to New Zealand), together with excellent value for train travel, helped keep costs down.

Together we spent around $21,500 in total, including:

  • $5,900 on the flights from New Zealand
  • $2,000 on travel within Europe (mostly train and bus)
  • $7,800 on accommodation for 47 nights (remainder with friends and family)
  • $5,800 on food and entertainment (that is around $50 each per day)

What went well

  1. Spending quality time with family and friends, especially having long enough to enjoy being together and meeting up several times. Catching up in person allows for hugs and deep listening.
  2. Visiting new and familiar places, and settling into the routine of work, leisure and exercise in the European summer.
  3. Working on projects that had been on my to-do list for months and were difficult to accomplish with the frequent interactions that are part of my daily life in New Zealand. There were few calls or emails during the European day, allowing plenty of time to focus.
  4. The reminder that most work can be managed without needing to be present, particularly with talented staff in support. Board meetings and dealing with problems were best achieved via calls or video, and everything else was managed via email.
  5. Travelling across Europe by train was excellent value and easy, plus environmentally friendly. We used Eurail tickets, $940 each for 10 days of travel within two months, including seat reservations for high-speed trains.

Learnings to note

  1. Wi-Fi can be patchy or non-existent on trains and in accommodation. Local SIM cards are one solution or using $8 a day data plans with the NZ provider. However, plan to work offline on trains as cellular coverage is sporadic.
  2. Spending three weeks or more in a location allowed us to thoroughly explore the local area and settle into a productive routine. We will plan fewer destinations and longer stays next time.
  3. Have a Plan B for accommodation. Hotels and managed apartments can provide greater flexibility in the event of problems as opposed to Airbnb. However, there is a trade-off with cost. This can be avoided if you are staying with family or friends.
  4. Air con is essential for working in warmer climates. With climate change, record-breaking temperatures are becoming the norm.
  5. It was more difficult to have a work-life balance in a different time zone. Be prepared for early mornings and late nights, to overlap with New Zealand office hours, and also working Sunday evenings (Monday mornings in NZ). Using “Flight Mode” on devices at night helps.

Overall, we consider ourselves truly fortunate to have worked in Europe and enjoyed it immensely. With the added learnings, we hope it will be even more successful next time.

DISCLAIMER No liability is assumed by Baker Tilly Staples Rodway for any losses suffered by any person relying directly or indirectly upon any article within this website. It is recommended that you consult your advisor before acting on this information.

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