Remote working abroad – pros and cons

Hi you!

Here it finally comes, the last post related to my Algarve trip. This time I will write from the perspective of remote working abroad. After spending three months working from Portugal, I got to see both the positive and “negative” (I wouldn’t like to use the word negative, because those negatives for me are more like realities to keep in mind) about this kind of a working arrangement. For sure remote or hybrid working is the new normal for many people, but for me this was the first time going that far and staying in another country working. So let’s start! I’ll start with the negatives or let’s say cons, because I want to end this post with positive vibes.

Cons

I prefer to call these “cons” rather aspect or realities to consider once going working abroad, not really as something very negative or something to be worried about. Maybe just as a reminder, wherever you go, it won’t be all rainbows and butterflies, as you might very well be aware of. Before the trip I was prepared for these aspects, and wasn’t surprised for almost any of these. On the other hand, some of the pros were the ones that surprised me a little, but let’s get to that at the end of this post.

Away from your family and friends. First a very obvious one; once you go abroad, you won’t stay at your normal social surroundings and won’t have the possibility to see your close family or friends at all (if they are not going to visit you during your stay). Well, we went during the pandemic when social life had been very limited already before leaving, so this wasn’t a difficult one to live with. And also, we live in 2022, where we have face time, so no worries at all. But I wanted to mention this aspect because when it comes to social life in general when working abroad remotely in a place where you don’t know anyone, be prepared to the fact that getting to know new people might not be as easy as you think, and you might even feel a bit lonely at times. Of course this depends highly on what kind of culture you are living in, what kind of accommodation or city/town you choose to live in and what kind of person you are etc. But as I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, I found it pretty difficult to get to know other people mainly due to the fact that there was not much social life due to the off-season, pandemic and the fact that our days were spend mainly working, doing sports activities or seeing new places, which I did with my boyfriend. I gotta admit that my experience around this might have been slightly different, if I went by myself.

Requires organizing. This is also something that needs to be kept in mind before going and also during the stay,. We did prepare for this trip quite a lot. Before leaving, we decided to cancel our lease in our apartment in Helsinki. We just did’t feel that we wanted to come back to the same apartment after Portugal, so we took a storage space and moved all our furniture there and said goodbye to our place. That was of course money wise the smartest solution for us. That itself was quite big arrangement, but it didn’t stop there. Flights, apartment, car rent, travel insurances were the next arrangements to be done before leaving. We had many months time to prepare, so it didn’t feel that overwhelming. Preparing well in advance for these arrangements is something I suggest, despite your attitude towards the stay itself might be a very “go with the flow”. That’s what it was for us too, but these mandatory arrangements are always better to make in advance, also to decrease your stress levels for those last weeks before leaving.

Too high expectations. This one is also very good to take into consideration. My advise is not to expect much or try to imagine in detailed how work and life would look like in the destination. What we did, as I have also mentioned before, was just to go and not think or expect too much. Going day by day releases stress and makes it more enjoyable overall. Every new day can be a surprise that you take as it comes. It makes it much more interesting and exciting, right? Why would you ruin your experience by overthinking or worrying about what’s to come or planning everything ahead? In case you would have too high expectations about how totally different working abroad might feel like compared to what you have been used to, what will happen in case those expectations won’t be met? Yes, a disappointment, for sure.

The workload does not decrease. This is to continue the previous one about your expectations. In case you romanticize in your head the experience of remote working abroad, and think it is the “recipe to become happier and more satisfied to your job, under the palm trees everything feels better”, you might be lying to yourself. The truth is – at least this is the truth for me due to the nature of my work – the workload do not decrease whether you were in Portugal, Bahamas or wherever, or at the office in your home country. To be honest, I got in this trap a bit before leaving. For sure this wasn’t a full surprise but it was bit of a disappointment for me, that my workload just increased week by week from January. It was crazy hectic and busy. Somehow I thought I would be able to take it a bit more easy, work some shorter days and take 2 weeks holiday during our stay, but at the end I worked overtime every week and ended up being able to spend only 1 week of holiday. I wish this is not the case for others, but just as a reminder, be prepared to work as you would work at your home country. The work itself doesn’t change despite your surroundings do.

Lack of motivation due to holiday mood. Let’s keep this last one as a shorter one, but as fun as it is to stay in another country and work from there, the work itself might feel very difficult and a “pain in the ass” sometimes. Having 20+ degrees outside, seeing people enjoying their days outside, it might feel that you are trapped in your apartment (or wherever you choose to work), and not get to enjoy the things you came there for in the first place. You might have those days where you just fully lack the motivation towards work because you see all those temptations around you that make you feel like you are in a holiday rather than work mode. Being so disconnected from your usual work environment can further disconnect you from your normal level of work engagement, and can also result as a lack of motivation. That’s exactly what happened to me.

Pros:

Now, moving to the pros.

Motivation boost. What? Didn’t I just mention the lack of motivation in the previous section? Yes I did, but you can see this from the other side as well: when you get to change the environment, it can almost automatically boost your motivation and can make you perform better due to the excitement the new place and the excitement of all the new, upcoming experiences that are waiting around the corner. For me, this kind of motivation boost did happen, however it didn’t end up lasting very long. I would say that the first week or two, it was all exciting, but then, after getting used to the new routines, this excitement level dropped.

Hitting two birds in one shot. Well this is an obvious one but let’s still mention it. Going abroad for work, you get your normal work routines, receive your full salary (and do not need to spend your savings for the trip) but similarly you kind of feel like you were on a holiday, at least outside your office hours. Especially during winter times, in case your home country is cold that time of the year, this really makes a big difference. For me, change of environment and having that light during the day, but still have those daily routines, really felt like I had hit two birds in one shot.

Time difference. This one can actually be either a pro or con, but as for me this was definitely a pro, I will keep it here. Finland’s time zone is 2 hours ahead compared to Portugal, which turned out to be a perfect match in terms of remote working. My mornings started at 6-6.30 local time in Portugal, which corresponded to 8-8.30 Finnish time. This meant that even though I needed to wake up early (which btw was no issue for me at all as the sun rose already before 7am) I could also finish earlier, already at 14 to 14.30 local time (if I didn’t work overtime). This led to the fact that I could do whatever I wanted the rest of the day. This worked for me very well and it felt a bit odd to start only at 8am after having returned back home.

Getting different perspectives. This is the last one, and personally for me the most important one. If I would need to choose one reason why this trip was worth it, it would be this. And by saying “getting different perspectives” I do not only mean the perspective towards the work itself, but also for life in general. Let me tell you my experience around this topic, as it – combined with some other factors – finally made me make some big changes in my life (and yes this sounds very cliché, but it is the truth). For me, during my Portugal stay I made some serious thinking about who I am, where I am at in my life and what I want to do in the future, which led me to return to Finland as a slightly different person. I am not saying that this was a magical lightening that made everything better, but this three month period started one kind of growing process that I am still living in. Also, I am not saying that you need to go abroad to have an experience like this – because these things can happen anywhere anytime – but for me it happened there, and I want to share my experience.

As a short background I will tell you where my head was at end of 2021: During the pandemic, I had been working almost fully remotely pretty much from March 2020. Therefore, I had already got used to being isolated from the office environment and colleagues. Getting that flexibility to schedule my hours a bit more freely, and learning this new way of working and living, started to put some things into a different perspective. I started to feel more detached from the company I worked for, and realized to what I was actually spending my hours every day. Already at that point, let’s say a year ago, I become to think other work options, as I started to feel I didn’t have much more to offer to the company I worked for anymore, as well as the the job itself was not fulfilling anymore (I had been working in the same position for almost 3 years at that point and the work was more of a bunch of stressful routines). But for some reason, I couldn’t let go. I felt that I would let everyone down if I resigned or changed to another company. I thought I was an important player in my team (which I for sure was, but the truth is that nobody is irreplaceable in big companies) and was feeling guilt and fear about the possible change. I had pretty strongly attached my identity to this company, and especially to the fact that “real work” should be stressful, extremely busy and that I just needed to accept the fact that it just is what it is and there are no other options available for me. And I truly believed that, until it got to the point that my body did not handle the pressure anymore. I will not go there too much in detailed, but let’s just say that the constant stress that I had carried in my shoulders for too long, decided to get out from my body, which led me to take some sick leave. During my sick leave in August 2021, I thought a lot about quitting, but again, the fear was there in the back of my mind. At that time, I just couldn’t do much more than have those few weeks sick leave and then return back to the same job and stress I was so used to. Despite my body was telling me to stop this insanity, I didn’t stop.

And this is where Portugal steps in. Looking back, I am so grateful that we have decided already at the end of the summer that we would take this trip. Otherwise I don’t know if we would have gone. Thinking back, without leaving Finland I am not sure how things would have ended up with this whole work situation and both my mental and physical health. I had this story I kept telling myself before leaving where I said to myself that I “needed to see from abroad whether my work actually sucked or not” “I am just tired and I won’t be happier working for any other company or job”. How long could I continue to speak like that to myself? I don’t even want to know. These were just some more excuse for me to prolong the difficult decision of letting go. Rationally I kind of knew what I should do, but emotionally I just wasn’t ready for the decision yet. That being said, the day finally came when we packed our bags and took the flight. I felt like this was a new beginning.

Well, first it was pretty cool, the whole working from abroad in this nice, bright apartment with the beach view on a sunny day, and I even reached that point where the work itself didn’t feel as stressful as back at home (I had that so called “honeymoon” phase). I was thinking; “ok, this was the thing, I just needed a separation from my home environment and now I feel much better”. But very soon the reality hit and I was back with the same, stressful mindset having the same “whatever” attitude towards my work that I did before. I remember so well those days I just sat on the chair and thought to myself “Why on earth I was still doing this same work that make me miserable and even sick? For who? Who was I trying to impress? What did I gain out of all this? Why wasn’t I brave enough to just leave, even though I might not find a new job right away, but I would still survive many months with my savings”. The totally new environment with the sun, beach, even the partial “holiday mood” I got every evening after work did not eliminate the fact that I desperately needed to get out of my toxic work (I am not describing all that went wrong work wise, but I guess you can imagine. It is the classic situation where you just have too much work and basically no resources to do even the most urgent stuff, combined with many other factors). This all wasn’t just working anymore.

So yes, I needed to go all the way to Portugal to see it all clearly; I realized I not only wanted to change the job, but I needed to make the change in order to keep my mental and physical health. There is nothing more important than that. In Portugal, I just started to see everything from a totally different, more of an objective perspective, which made me understand that change needs to happen, in a way or from another. No excuses. And at that point, in the middle of January 2022, I started to look for other jobs and found and applied to one that I was very interested in. And this was only the start for many more changes I slowly started to make. I will continue this story more in my next posts and will let you know what is going on at the moment, but let’s just say that my thinking, realizations and growing that happened in Portugal during those three months, was so much more than only about work. Changing job is “relatively” easy, you might think. Well it can be for many people, but for me it was about so much more, it was about my identity and letting go of some of the thoughts I have carried during my whole life. The person now writing this post one year later is almost unrecognizable of that person in August 2021. I will write more about this in my next posts!

This was my experience about getting different perspective while working abroad. It was not a short one and got a bit deeper. I still want to conclude this all by saying that remote working abroad, away from all the possible excuses that might keep you stuck at whatever does not work for you, can be one solution to fight against all those old beliefs and excuses, and help to see things and, more importantly yourself, in a totally new light. I am now reflecting back and thinking, what it was for me that made me realize my situation so clearly only during our Portugal stay and not back at home. The only things I can come up with are the distance and right time. It might be that my comfort zone and home environment in Finland was just not enough distance from it all. Distance is a really good test whether the work you are doing every single day (or any other aspect of your life) is actually the right thing for you or not. This can work especially for the kind of people out there who tend to overthink or overanalyze things without taking any action to actually change anything. I was doing exactly that. And my first concrete action I did in order to change my everyday life, was moving to Portugal for three months. So, in case you feel a bit lost and don’t come up with any other ideas, do yourself a favor and just go physically away from your familiar life, surroundings or unconscious routines for a while to see, whether that gives the clarity you need. It without a doubt worked for me. You don’t have to go as far as I did, but just go somewhere where you’ve never been and do things you’ve never done, without thinking too much. It will be worth it.

x Mari Susanna

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