February 15, 2024

Working abroad: 7 key insights

Working abroad? You’ve probably thought about opening your laptop from a sunny destination. But why work abroad and how does an employer view it? From Barcelona, Tom Strouken (Digital Innovations, Great Place to Work) talks to René Brouwers (CEO, Great Place to Work) about his ten-week remote development experience with Sweet Spot Abroad. Tom and René help organisations create a culture of people and trust – a Great Place to Work. Tom had previously worked abroad on his own initiative, but this time he combined remote working with a development programme. In the interview, together they looked back on this time.Tom reflects on his experience of working remotely in Barcelona during an interview with employer Great Place to Work.

A contribution to personal development
Why work abroad? Development plays a central role, both personally and professionally. Stepping out of your daily routine in a new environment provides a fresh perspective and distance from habits. For Tom, this led to a visible increase in his productivity and effectiveness. It also improved his work-life balance and created more space to develop new ideas. My awareness of what I was doing increased and I was inspired by the new environment and the new people,” says Tom.According to René, working abroad not only contributes to the development of the individual, but also adds value to the organisation as a whole. Tom was able to reflect and share his views on working practices and processes within the organisation from a distance. As an employer, I have been challenged and inspired by the new perspective he has given me by working remotely. A positive effect, as it encourages change. On the other hand, the spontaneous moments when they could spar with each other and reflect on the ongoing processes were lost. Talking over a cup of coffee or a Friday afternoon drink creates a different atmosphere than organised online meetings, both Tom and René admit.‘As an employer, I have been challenged and inspired by the new perspective that Tom has provided by working remotely' René

The challenges of working abroad
What are the challenges of working abroad? Dealing with a new working environment requires a different way of working, says Tom. The distance and freedom require a certain level of accountability for work and collaboration with colleagues. Tom stresses that it is important to give yourself time to adjust to the new environment and different times. Continue to find your own rhythm and implement your own way of working. Tom explains that it is important to stand your ground in this respect, as it is easy to get carried away by the culture and activities that come your way. Avoid being swept away and losing yourself.Is working abroad for everyone? Tom and René are quick to agree, probably not. According to René, the success of working abroad is not just about the professional results. It is part of personal development and therefore the results are different for everyone. Everyone has the right to work remotely, although I think the results will be different for each employee,” says René.‘Everyone has the right to work remotely, although the results will be different for each employee’ René

The future of work is remote
Is the future of work completely remote? A tricky question that sparks a debate and reveals that Tom and René have different views. Maintaining social cohesion within the company and individual teams seems to be a concern for René. If it were up to him, remote working would depend entirely on the position and whether the organisation’s design is geared towards creating mutual social cohesion online. People are social beings, and the social aspect gives you energy,” says René. In addition, there is a lot of power in connecting people, and coming together creates a desirable learning curve within the organisation. So, according to René, there are certain elements missing from working completely remotely. But for Tom, the future of work is fully remote. There are several ways to stay in touch with colleagues, even remotely. Provided the nature of the work allows it, and in organisations where online social interaction is sufficient, René might agree with Tom.

The importance of a social network
The ability to meet social needs abroad is an important component. Being on your own means actively building a social network, and that tends to take a lot of time, says René. Tom, who now has experience of working remotely abroad, says there are several ways to build a social network. For example, working in a social environment such as a shared co-working space. However, René thinks it is difficult to check that all employees are part of a social network abroad. According to Tom, this is one of the reasons why remote working through organisations like Sweet Spot Abroad is a great option. He says the biggest difference to his previous remote working experience is that the social network in Barcelona was pre-arranged. As part of a community of people from different companies, you get to know each other from day one,” says Tom. This allows everyone to focus on what really matters: learning, developing and having fun.‘The biggest difference from my previous remote working experience is that the social network in Barcelona was pre-arranged’ Tom

Managing mutual expectations
During the discussion, Tom and René came to the conclusion that it is good to manage mutual expectations before departure. This is a tip they would like to pass on to future employers and employees who are about to start working remotely. Talk to each other beforehand to avoid disappointment later on. According to René, the results are not the same for everyone, simply because everyone handles it differently. Success is in your own hands, and you can achieve it by setting goals together. Discuss the reasons for working abroad and then decide together: when is it successful?

The right length of time abroad
Is there an optimal length of time to work abroad? According to René, the right length of time to work abroad depends on the person, their role in the company and their objectives. Looking back on his time in Barcelona, Tom notes that he went through several stages. The first two weeks in particular were dominated by new impressions. A new home and a new place to work take you out of your usual rhythm. By the third week, things start to feel familiar and you start to feel more at home in the city. While Tom enjoyed not experiencing everything in the office during the first few weeks, he notes that from week six he felt he was missing out on certain things. They agree that a physical meeting after six weeks could have added value. A return to the office for the quarterly meeting, for example.

More than a condition of employment
As an employer, under what conditions do you allow people to work abroad? If René had his way, remote working would be more of a given than a condition of employment. At the same time, remote working is also used as a reward, as a means of retaining employees. René is sceptical about the reward approach, as it can be fraught with difficulties. In addition, companies are increasingly making it possible to work abroad in order to attract the new generation of employees.

Findings on remote working abroad
A period of remote working abroad contributes to the personal and professional development of employees. A new perspective offers room for change and reflection on existing processes. It also has a positive impact on work-life balance and encourages creativity and innovation. Remote working abroad also brings its own challenges. Communication and cooperation at a distance and the objectives associated with the time abroad are very important. Discuss each other’s expectations and agree on the right time frame and location. In this way, you can work together to make working remotely abroad a success.

In partnership with Great Place to Work
This blog has been produced in partnership with Great Place to Work. The company helps organisations create a culture that puts people and trust first and contributes to a Great Place to Work for All.Questions about the different options for a remote development experience through Sweet Spot Abroad? Contact us here!

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