Features

Remote office working: Hot desking

30 Oct 2020 by BusinessTraveller
Beach at Waves Hotel and Spa

As the pandemic moves into 2021, countries are offering options so you can set up your remote office somewhere more appealing.

Are you reading this at home? Perhaps in the spare room/kitchen table/garden shed “office” that has been your improvised workspace for most of this year? Poleaxed by the pandemic, many of us have had to adjust to a strange new era of business travel – one abruptly shorn of getting on planes and going to offices and where the business day is now conducted almost entirely via electronic screens.

The trend towards remote working has been rapidly accelerated (even Zoomed) by Covid-19, along with the dreamy thought that we might as well do this somewhere warm and uplifting – a lifestyle change that is now being encouraged by exotic destinations ranging from Anguilla to Georgia, inviting us to up laptops and “work from paradise”.

Doing so is worth considering, given that the technology exists to allow work from almost anywhere and that Covid-19 isn’t going away. As Professor Sir John Bell, a leading immunologist and Regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, has put it: “There’s going to be lots of this virus around for a long time, probably forever.”

At the same time, working remotely is going mainstream. Microsoft has said it will allow staff to do this permanently, even from another country if approved. Germany plans to make working from home a legal right, while the Welsh government wants to see “around 30 per cent of the workforce working remotely on a regular basis”. Pontypridd or Bora Bora? Now that is a question.

The good news is that working from abroad doesn’t have to mean a major sell-up and relocation. Most of the new long-stay working visas are valid only for a year, so are ideal for testing the water, and their requirements are pretty standard. You can’t work in the host country, you need to demonstrate a decent income and have health insurance, you can come and go as you please, and you are not taxed locally. (Note that the chance to set up in these locations is subject to entry restrictions on international arrivals owing to the pandemic.)

With uncannily good timing, in April travel guide publisher Lonely Planet brought out a bible for all this, The Digital Nomad Handbook (£12.99), that is full of tips on how to live and work on the road. It outlines how to apply for a work-friendly visa in less-hyped places such as Mexico and Costa Rica, and even suggests a novel way to stay in Thailand. Apparently, if you sign up for a year-long course in Thai boxing, you only have to train for four hours a week – and that might come in handy if the boss is giving you grief…

USER FRIENDLY

The best of the new, Covid-inspired long-stay visas have a fast and inexpensive application process, such as Work from Bermuda, which is all done online with approval within five working days. It’s worth remembering that this manicured financial centre and British Overseas Territory is notoriously expensive, with its capital, Hamilton, topping the global cost of living index compiled by the collaborative database website Expatistan.

Nevertheless, since launching in August, the scheme has received 300 applications. “They are mostly from CEOs, presidents and high-level executives working in finance, tech and services,” reports Victoria Isley, chief marketing and sales officer at Bermuda Tourism Authority. The island seems happy with this addition – “Having just 65,000 residents, an input of 150 family units is significant for us,” she says.

Bermuda Sea Glass Beach (Credit: Bermuda Tourism Authority)

By contrast, applicants for Estonia’s Digital Nomad Visa, which was unveiled on August 1, need to visit an Estonian embassy or consulate in person and you will have to pay tax if you reside in the Baltic state for more than 183 days. “The main aim is to promote Estonia, create diversity and enrich the community,” says Ruth Annus, head of the country’s citizenship and migration policy department.

While the scheme anticipates 1,800 sign-ups a year, Covid-19 travel restrictions have severely affected this – as of mid-September, 17 applications had been received, with only six accepted. More successfully, the country also offers “e-residency”, with more than 70,000 subscribers, providing entrepreneurs and remote workers with an Estonian digital identity but no travel rights.

A BARBADOS BASE

A more tempting option is to set up your desk in the sunny Caribbean, where in my view the Barbados Welcome Stamp is the stand-out winner in this strange seduction. Launched on July 24, it appears to have set a bandwagon rolling – Aruba has since come up with a One Happy Workcation programme (open only to US citizens), while Antigua and Barbuda now offers a Nomad Digital Residence, valid for two years. Anguilla is wooing digital nomads with the tag: “When they said ‘work remote’ this is what they meant.” While boasting some of the finest white sand beaches in the world, being very small with a flat, arid landscape must make it the ideal venue for a social experiment on whether it is possible to go stir-crazy in heaven.

With good flight connections and UK links stretching back almost four centuries, Barbados is sufficiently large to offer variety – 34km by 23km – with contrasting calm and wild coastlines. It is one of the most densely populated Caribbean islands, yet its Covid-19 cases amount to 218 since March at the time of writing.

While the downturn in tourism caused by the pandemic was clearly a factor in launching the Welcome Stamp, its main purpose is to “encourage cross-cultural exchange and an influx of new walks of life”, says Aprille Thomas of Barbados Tourism Marketing. The price tag might seem high – US$2,000 a head (or US$3,000 for families) – but this is because “we want to deter fraud and attract serious people”, she says. More than 2,500 individuals had applied at the time of writing, and most have been accepted. While the majority have come from the US, UK and Canada, some have been from as far afield as Serbia, Morocco, Nigeria and Iraq.

Among these “happy stampers” are Britons Martin and Laura Macdonald, who arrived on the island in August with their children aged 12 and seven. The family was previously based in California, where Martin runs a digital marketing consultancy, and their relocation was prompted by the news that their local school would not be reopening in the autumn.

“Our first question before committing was: ‘What’s the internet like?’” Laura recalls. “In fact, it’s much better than in Silicon Valley.” Barbados also has a high standard of education and medical care and they’ve settled in well, renting a restored plantation house in the green and quiet east of the island that is large enough to accommodate Martin’s office along with visiting friends and relatives. “Bring everything you need,” Laura advises anyone following in their footsteps, and “be wildly flexible”.

Cobblers Cove

CARIBBEAN CHECK-IN

With tourism taking a dive, Barbados has a decent range of villas available, although some visa-holders prefer to rent an Airbnb property first as a way of getting their bearings. Hotels that are normally filled with winter sun-seeking regulars are also offering discounted long-stay packages, including classy Cobblers Cove, where you can set up office on the patio of your garden suite and enjoy perks such as a free minibar, yoga sessions and daily motorised watersports sessions.

Numerous hotels worldwide are promoting themselves as the ideal venue for remote working, and that’s fine if they have a business orientation. But how easy is it to knuckle down with the spreadsheets in a beach resort full of loved-up couples and sporty families? Pretty easy, I’d say. As business travellers, we are all familiar with working on the hoof, juggling time zones and firing off emails from poolside. As proof, this feature is being written at Waves Hotel and Spa, a 70-room all-inclusive property on the west coast of Barbados, where most of my fellow guests are cheery Brits soaking up the sun and unlimited Mount Gay rum. Luckily, my work ethic is proving the stronger spirit.

Staffed with smiling and helpful Bajans, this four-star property is part of the Marriott International-owned Elegant Hotels Group, and its Working from Waves package costs US$8,010 a month for two, with all meals, drinks, watersports, exercise classes and some spa treatments included. A B&B alternative at sister property Colony Club by Elegant Hotels is US$5,790. This represents a 35 per cent discount on the rate for a standard room but expect to pay more for extra space or an ocean view.

Working from Waves Hotel and Spa

“We’re open to upgrading long-stay guests,” says Gayle Talma, the company’s group operations director. In my experience, while the attitude here is extremely can-do, you might want to consider checking into a hotel where the rooms have kitchen facilities to avoid having the same breakfast choice for 30 days in a row (the lavish self-serve buffets of yore are another Covid casualty).

On the plus side, the chance to wake up and step into a glistening turquoise sea, jump on a Hobie Cat catamaran in your lunch hour and kick back with some grilled mahi-mahi in the evening is clearly a boon. Employers sometimes complain that working from home is less productive than in an office, but that’s not the case when you’ve swapped your standard view of the kitchen clock for glossy palm trees and outrageous sunsets. I certainly feel motivated to crack on by the warmth, fresh breezes and radiant colours of the Caribbean, and the Bajans, who are a go-ahead and cosmopolitan lot, are a joy to work and play with.

When launching the Welcome Stamp, Mia Mottley, the dynamo prime minister of Barbados, commented about the strain that Covid-19 had placed on people’s mental wellness and the benefits that a year on her charismatic island might bring. “The sunshine is powerful,” she argues. “The seawater is powerful. They’re both therapeutic in ways that are hard to explain. And we felt, why not share it?”

IS IT TIME TO MOVE OFFICE? (words by Hannah Brandler)

Countries offering long-stay visas for remote workers

Anguilla

  • Scheme: Digital Nomads
  • Cost for one year: US$2,000
  • Earnings threshold: Able to “financially maintain” yourself
  • ivisitanguilla.com

Antigua and Barbuda

  • Scheme: Nomad Digital Residence
  • Cost for one year: US$1,500 (for two years)
  • Earnings threshold: US$50,000 per annum
  • antiguanomadresidence.com

Barbados

  • Scheme: Barbados Welcome Stamp
  • Cost for one year: US$2,000
  • Earnings threshold: US$50,000 per annum
  • barbadoswelcomestamp.bb

Bermuda

  • Scheme: Work from Bermuda
  • Cost for one year: US$263
  • Earnings threshold: “Substantial means and/or a continuous source of annual income”
  • gotobermuda.co.uk/workfrombermuda

Czech Republic

  • Scheme: Long-Term Visa
  • Cost for one year: £84
  • Earnings threshold: Kc124,500 (£4,128) for a one-year stay
  • mvcr.cz

Estonia

Georgia

  • Scheme: Remotely from Georgia
  • Cost for one year: None
  • Earnings threshold: US$2,000 per month
  • stopcov.ge

Portugal

  • Scheme: Temporary Stay Visa
  • Cost for one year: €75
  • Earnings threshold: €635 per month
  • vistos.mne.pt/en

Coming soon: Croatia

The prime minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenkovic, has revealed plans to introduce a Digital Nomad Visa in 2021. Following a meeting with Dutch entrepreneur and Split resident Jan de Jong in August, Plenkovic announced on Twitter that he would call for an amendment of the Aliens Act in order to legally regulate the stay of remote workers for up to 12 months. The amendment will need to be debated and approved in parliament before the visa can be finalised.

Nigel Tisdall

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