Business lessons on working from abroad – Part One

What business lesson did I learn when working from abroad?

It was a chance conversation at a networking meeting.

Christine said she was supposed to be going house sitting in France but a job had come up that she couldn’t turn down. Not one to miss an opportunity (and I love France) I asked her more about it as we walked back into town afterwards.

It was the perfect place to check my systems to see if the goal I had for working from anywhere was possible.

Chris, my partner, agreed it would be a good idea and he could also work whilst there.

A few emails, phone calls, 800 miles and about 6 weeks later I unpacked my bags in the kitchen of the beautiful house in Varen, France that was to be our home for two weeks.

It worked very well and I wanted to share with you how I did it and what I learned. As this blog post will be long I’ve split it into two and will publish the second one shortly.

This is the first four lessons with 10 tips to help you succeed.

Lesson 1 – Be prepared

I made appointments with clients to speak with them whilst I was abroad. I also took work that I could do just with an internet connection, e.g. research, writing, blog posts ideas, things to share on social media etc.

The preparation for what to take with me took quite a lot of time to sort out.

I bought myself a new external hard drive (a Seagate 2TB) for around £70 and backed up my computer files from my desktop computer onto it.

TIP 1: Work out what files you need.

I took client folders, photographs to include in blog posts and inspiring quotes or client posts, marketing materials and business planning documents.

TIP 2: The actual backup took hours and hours so don’t leave it to the last minute.

Using your mobile phone

If you will be using your mobile phone abroad then check you have either

  1. a plan that allows for calls and data abroad (check prices)
  2. topped up your phone with credit that you can use (I did this as I use GiffGaff)

What did I need to take with me? What was essential and what was a “nice to have”?

We were travelling by car so there was no problem with weight or size. If you go by plane then you will need to be mindful of the baggage allowance.

I took more than I needed but it was good to have the reassurance that it was there.

Use Dropbox as an online backup for files. I put some files on here so I could access them directly from my laptop.

What to take with you?

I made a list and took the following:

  • My laptop, external mouse and a backup disk (the backup disk went into a different bag in case of any problems)
  • Headphones
  • iPad or other electronic device as a backup
  • Electronic copies of relevant files including client paperwork
  • Stationery: pens, stapler, paper clips, sticky notes, blank paper, to-do lists etc.
  • Client folders and paperwork
  • Strategy and Business planning paperwork
  • Personal development courses I wanted to study
  • Business books I’d been meaning to read for a while
  • Multiple adaptors for France  (I bought a double adapter a while ago which has proved very useful)
  • All the relevant cables and chargers for my phone, iPad and laptop. I also have a converter which changes a lightning cable to a USB one so in theory I only need one cable to charge both my iPad and Android phone.
  • A double USB cigarette charger to go into the car (around £6 from Maplin or similar)
  • Passwords to login to all my online systems

I’ve created a downloadable list of the items above which you can print off and add to.

Lesson 2: The Journey

We travelled by car and ferry and the journey took several hours. I have a subscription to Audible so we downloaded an audio books (Frederick Forsyth’s autobiography – very entertaining) onto the iPad and listened to it whilst driving.

I’ve also listened whilst in an airport or on a plane. It makes the time go quickly and is relaxing.

It also works on a phone and some phones can be plugged in directly to the audio system in newer cars.

TIP 3: Ensure you download somewhere with decent wifi before you set off as the files are large.

TIP 4: Ensure you have a charging cable for your device and an adapter to plug into the cigarette lighter (see the list above)

Lesson 3: Find a comfortable place to work at your destination.

Mine was at the kitchen table.

I worked with the door open so the sun and warmth came in but it wasn’t shining directly onto my screen.

Plenty of space to spread out paperwork (yes I took that too!) and my laptop and assorted cables and near to power supplies as my laptop only lasts around 3 hours.

With a decent wifi signal. The table was right next to the router so no problem there.

I used headphones occasionally, especially when communicating via Skype.

Chris setup at one of the tables in the garden when the weather was good and at the desk in the sitting room when it was cooler. There were lots of options.

TIP 5: Try different places until you find the one that best suits you (and it may be a different one in the morning or afternoon)

Mobile Wireless Hotspots

It is possible to work from anywhere providing you have a laptop and a decent internet connection – that includes sitting in the car and using your phone as a wireless hotspot which Chris did to send some emails whilst I drove.

TIP 6: If you don’t know how to setup your phone as a wireless hotspot, Google your phone name + wireless hotspot & follow instructions.

Be aware that the data you use will be chargeable whether as part of your normal mobile phone plan or using credit you have added.

Lesson 4: Develop a routine

Realise that it will take time to get used to a new routine.

It took 2-3 days in my case and we stayed for 12 days in the same place.

The kitchen table was the only place I worked from as I felt comfortable there.

I ended up working most mornings and we went out and about in the afternoons so it was working part time but I felt like I achieved a lot without any of the usual distractions. I occasionally did some work in the evenings.

Do remember that if you want to concentrate on something then sign out of emails, social media etc. whilst doing it.

TIP 7: [tweetable alt=””]Prioritise what you need to do. Use a to do list. [/tweetable].

TIP 8: Work out what is your most productive time of the day and use that time to do the most important tasks. First thing in the morning is generally the time when our minds are most focused.

The Internet Connection

[tweetable alt=””]A fast internet connection is absolutely vital.[/tweetable]

I wanted to use Skype to connect with people but the connection I had was too slow despite it being 2MB which is the same as some of the rural connections in the UK.

An internet connection has an up and down speed and only the down speed is publicised (you know those up to 20MB adverts you see). What they don’t normally tell you is the up speed is about one fifth of this.

So whilst I could see and hear people almost perfectly the majority of the time, they couldn’t see or hear me clearly as the speed of sending ‘up’ to them was extremely slow.

Skype would not co-operate for video calls so I ended up doing different things, sometimes using the iPad for audio only, sometimes a phone (landline or mobile) and sometimes rescheduling calls.

TIP 9: Have a backup plan. Luckily the house had free landline calls abroad so I rang the person instead. I could have used my mobile too (be aware of the costs of calling from abroad)

TIP 10: Disconnect any other devices from the wireless that may be using the internet (e.g. mobile phone, tablet etc.)

Part Two will continue the lessons learned when working from abroad.

Have you any tips to add to this list? Please add your comments below.