How to Take Advantage of ‘Working from Home’ To Work from Anywhere (i.e. — France)
We live in a fantastic, magical time.
With some exceptions (notably the home based entrepreneur, the shop keeper with retail space in the first floor of his or her home, etc), never before in history have we witnessed the phenomenon of working from home.
Through the course of time, employment typically implied a commute to work, clocking into a physical location, performing your duties, and then commuting back home. Farmers are tied to the land they cultivate, merchants facilitate commerce in their designated markets or locations, and many variations of office workers typically conduct their work in a fixed location.
At CodeScience, we have an office in Chattanooga, but for the most part, we can all work from home.
‘Home’ Can Be Wherever You Are
In my journey from childhood to adulthood (one could argue I am still very much on this path), I had the good fortune to travel, study, and work in many places across the globe.
France is one of my favorite places. My studies took me to Dijon in 2001, and likewise to Paris in 2007, with a full time job (internship) to boot.
I feel in love with the stinky cheeses, extraordinary (and very wallet friendly) wine, and passionate culture of the people. You can’t throw a rock in most places without potentially damaging something 400–1,000+ years old. These structures and something about these places call you into convocation with the past — I wonder often what souls meandered down the paths I take and what they may have been like.
I loved my experiences here so much, that I set a personal goal to come back and live in France again one day. Taking advantage a bit of the benefit to work from ‘home,’ I’ve chosen to make home in Provence this Summer, and hence this post arrives to you from France.
The Journey to France
This was not extraordinarily easy to pull off. To be able to do something like this, there are some key ingredients you might want to consider.
Your company culture.
I have to give full credit to CodeScience for being a bit ahead of the curve in terms of how it balances performance management, personal empowerment, and a commitment to its values. All of us have clear directives on performing at a high level in our individual role — and there are strong incentives to execute accordingly.
CodeScience understands that if you give people clear objectives, the right tools and training, and proper guidance and support, individuals and teams will self organize to deliver work of high quality and value.
As a foil, CodeScience does not micromanage and thus declare you must be at your desk (or somewhere) from 9 to 5. Rather, CodeScience sets the performance standard loosely along the lines of ‘here are your goals (and everything you need to realize these), go get it done, and get it done right.’
This core paradigm is quite powerful, and I would argue, revolutionary, compared to how many companies do business in the US today. In fact, some companies I have worked for (full time, as a consultant) in the past go as far as to say the same, but all policies and actions speak differently than their words. The reality is many companies, even with positive aspirations, fail to fulfill these promises.
At CodeScience, there is a trust established among our colleagues where — we can count on each other to get our work done. In fact, I have zero need to micromanage or understand the details of what my coworkers are doing. We have sound technical engineers and architects who know the inner workings of complex components of applications. I know enough to be dangerous about these topics, and that is it. I want to rely on the sharp experts to do what they do best. When they succeed, I succeed. When I succeed in my role, they do too.
Trust, and the exponential increase in capability we reap through this synergy, is the current that powers CodeScience. This, coupled with the ability to truly work from home and cultural values that encourage us to explore our whole lives (not just our work lives) are not just what attracted me to this company, but it is what will keep me here, as long as they will have me.
Your ability to balance your responsibilities in a foreign environment.
This might be stating the obvious a bit, but it merits discussion in the sense that there are some mechanics that need to be in place to really make this work. Here are some lessons learned on my end, to start:
- Be flexible with your work schedule. Although you’re hopping time zones, your clients, teammates, and partners aren’t. Make sure you are ready to work odd hours, take late or early calls, and just generally be available as you normally would at home. You can preview your schedule to your colleagues and ask for considerations to your time zone, but don’t expect it. Expect to maintain your time commitments as if you were at home.
- Don’t forget to do what you are paid to do. This should go without stating, but it’s easy to get distracted when you are outside your home or comfort zone. Plug in, and treat work the same, wherever you are.
- Make sure your internet connection is solid wherever you go. I researched my places to stay through Airbnb (highly recommended, btw, if you travel abroad), and one of my basic filter criteria was internet. This has panned out pretty well so far, but dig into a bit with your host(s). I am staying out in the mountains and country, for the most part, which means DSL is about as good as it gets. This works, but it is not perfect. Luckily the next place I am staying has high speed fiber.
- Ensure your phone services work where you go, or find an alternative. Luckily my cell phone provider (T-Mobile) enables me to get basic phone and internet access here in France. However, it’s not 100% reliable, and the internet is painfully 2G slow. You can, in many places, buy a prepaid SIM card (like Orange in France) to stick into your phone (or you can buy a cheap phone with a prepaid SIM card) with a local number that often comes with solid, agreeable rates on international calls and data. Research this before you go.
- Be open, up front, and honest with your colleagues about your plans. You might be able to ask forgiveness, but permission will help ensure you don’t lose your job. Be smart about this — don’t just hope it all works out.
- If traveling with family (I am), ensure they are able to enjoy themselves while you work. This takes a bit of planning and foresight — with some flexibility when you arrive should you find well intended plans don’t pan out.
- Don’t travel on work days. This creates a lot of stress — if you need to navigate from one place to another, take a day off, or do it on the weekend. In fact, if you’re making a big hop across the pond (i.e. — US to France), give yourself some buffer for travel — flights can and often do become delayed, the drive takes much longer than Google Maps says, etc. Plus, it’s nice to get settled in somewhere before you fire up work.
- Side note: trust Google Maps and other GPS apps with a grain of salt. Locals and good street signs (where available) are better indicators of directions. Google Maps nearly drove us off a cliff last week, and it often puts us down strange little paths that feel like death traps.
Be willing to take risks. Calculated risks.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain
In terms of risk, there is much you can plan for (known unknowns), and undoubtedly, there is even more for which you may not be able to plan (unknown unknowns). Give yourself ample time and thought to planning your trip. What could go wrong? And, what could go right? Don’t forget there is positive upside to some risks.
For me, the big risk factor was internet and phone. I researched this aggressively through Airbnb with my hosts.
In fact, when I arrived in the first place I stayed, despite my best laid plains, the internet was not working at my hostess’s house. Luckily, I was able to use my 2G connection to communicate back and forth with her to resolve the issue. Without this, I would have had to have sought out an internet cafe. Worse, I would have had to cancel this reservation and find a new place.
These are all scenarios with solutions, albeit not all ideal (finding a place to stay at the last minute is feasible, but it would be horribly painful). I knew that, in my back pocket, I had a car to go elsewhere, I had Airbnb and Hotel Tonight to find new places, and as a last resort, I could possibly take one more day off from work to work through this (least ideal, but feasible).
The trick to traveling is being adaptable, willing, and able to work through any surprises that manifest themselves along the way. In fact, some surprises may mask themselves as horrible inconveniences, but they could turn out to be forced pivots you need to make that open doors to something even better.
With the right balance of planning and agility, you can manage nearly any risk that comes your way. Make sure you give yourself the basic tools — in my case, my phone, internet, and car give me enough agility to turn any lemon into lemonade. You just have to see the opportunities in the chaos and go after those.
I love working. I think what I love about this job, in particular, is the constant stimulation I get from tackling new problems, learning new methods and technologies, and working with exceptionally sharp, cool people. I spend ~ 40 hours a week doing this job — I better damn well like it.
Outside those 40 hours, I love my family and travel. I hope to see more of the world, and I hope especially that this is one of many experiences traveling and working abroad.
If you work from home, and if your company operates like CodeScience, all this is accessible to you too. If you’re willing to put in the research, do the preparation, and take on the risks and be agile, do it.
Go forth, and seek out those experiences that will enrich your life.
— — —
Please drop a comment here or reach out to me at josh at codescience dot com if you have any questions. I’d be happy to chat through my experience and offer any additional perspective you may seek.
You can also view this post here on the CodeScience blog.