Working abroad: Are you ready to join a virtual workforce?

If you have a traditionally office-based job, the pandemic created a line in the sand beyond which your working life changed forever. It’s easy to list some of the key advantages of the shift towards remote work. 

Working abroad: Are you ready to join a virtual workforce?
Working at least partially from home is the new norm for millions. Photo: Getty Images

You get to skip the commute (hooray!), enjoy more autonomy in managing your time (awesome!), and more flexibility in when to do chores at home (small wins still add up).

Your employer gets a one-off chance to cut overhead costs, the chance to recruit from further afield (or even from abroad), and the option to develop a hybrid model balancing remote working with some office days.

But as these benefits become the norm, how can you ensure you succeed in this new world? Or perhaps land a remote job in a distant international company without even moving?

The Local, in partnership with telecommunications provider Zadarma, explores what experts in teamwork and organisational behaviour say on the topic and offers four tips to help you thrive.

What are the potential costs of remote working?

Given the benefits, the rush to embrace remote working is no surprise. But such a fundamental change also has potential drawbacks that can easily be overlooked.

While a few companies, such as Buffer and Shopify, have declared themselves fully remote or “digital by default”, it’s more likely that you still make some appearances at a shared office.

In an article in Harvard Business Review, two international experts in this field explored how hybrid working arrangements could prove unfair to many workers without effective and fair management.

Firstly, they argue that workers spending more time in the office get better access to information, giving them an edge in a fast-paced environment. This includes learning the latest news through “informal water-cooler conversations” that remote workers miss.

Secondly, being in the office more often makes it easier to get emotional and task-based support from colleagues. And thirdly, anyone frequently in the office at the same time as senior managers may get more recognition than people working from home for collective output.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s more. The two experts, from INSEAD business school in France and the University of Pennsylvania, go on to say that operating within a hybrid environment is a skill in itself and those who are less adept at it may suffer.

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Four tips to help you thrive

In 2022, three in 10 workers in the EU regularly worked from home. The figure differed sharply between countries: the Netherlands (65 percent) led the way; in Sweden, just over half (51.8 percent) enjoyed some remote working; the number was lower in France (40.9 percent) and Germany (32 percent), though still above the EU average.

The data, published by Remote, a global HR solutions company for remote teams, shows far fewer hybrid-remote workers in the US and the UK (both around 15 percent) than in the EU.

Does remote working lead to isolation? A woman works alone on her laptop far away from the bustle of a city office. Photo: Getty Images

But apart from moving to the Netherlands, where the law now requires companies to consider requests for remote work, how can you set yourself up to succeed in a virtual workforce? Here are four key factors to think about: 

Make time for microlearning – It’s been years since you researched some courses to take your skillset to the next level. But the right time never arrived and if someone tells you the right time is now, you’re going to scream. But wait! What if the right time is now, and the secret is to break a major upskilling challenge into one or two five-minute sessions per day? As a remote worker, you can try microlearning by utilising a few minutes here and there that might previously have been spent feigning interest in a colleague’s photos of their beloved pet. As outlined in James Clear’s hit book Atomic Habits, getting one percent better at something every day has a huge impact over time.

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Re-focus on relationship building – Creating strong relationships with colleagues can offset some of the challenges posed by switching between different working locations. Informal connections can also help make up for the potential information deficit arising from not being in an office, says the Harvard Business Review article. Whether you’re on a video call, using a messenger service or writing an email, looking to develop shared understanding and mutual trust can reduce the potential trap of feeling isolated and unsupported as part of a remote-first team.

Be visible (but not ubiquitous!) – Highly engaged people are known to be more productive. You want to be valued, which means you want to show your engagement. But how do you get the balance right as part of a virtual workforce? Nobody wants to listen to someone talking in a video meeting just for the sake of appearing to have made a contribution that day. To make your voice heard when it really matters, ask your manager for clear goals and then have regular check-ins to track your progress. By doing so, you’ll ensure you’re most visible when tangible results start coming in and can leave the waffle to others (while you put yourself on mute and press play on Spotify).

Show some digital love – yes, yes, yes: you know you need to be digitally literate to avoid going from remote to redundant. You know you need a host of varied tech tools at your disposal. But what you and your colleagues really need now is digital leadership. It’s 16 years since American entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss revealed his idea of the four-hour working week, but the concept of automating most of your work remains distant for most people. You don’t have to be a CEO or CTO, however, to start a conversation about which tools your team most value – and which eat up more time than they’re worth. Could you be a digital leader by introducing faster tools to colleagues or improving how your digital product suite is used?

Want to work from home, from Hawaii, or from who knows where forever more? Upgrade your remote working capabilities with Zadarma’s virtual phone numbers and business solutions

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COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.