Offshoring yourself: teleworking across borders
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in The Observer, 2004
At a time when every company with a back office or a call centre seems to be cutting costs by sending their work offshore, one answer could be to join the trend and go offshore yourself.
Until earlier this year , Charlie Cattell ran his specialist consultancy business from an office in his home in Yorkshire . In April, however, he moved to a small seaside town in the Peloponnese, about two hours' drive south of Athens . The view from his office is of the Mediterranean , with mountains behind him and islands beyond. Down the hill the olive harvest is getting under way. 'It's really rather nice,' he says, with English understatement. It is also much cheaper.
He says he has found it as straightforward to run his business from southern Greece as from Yorkshire . He uses a combination of a Greek ISDN telephone line, a Greek mobile number and a UK mobile number, and has had no problems continuing to work for his clients or to attract new work. He is also able to continue to use his English email address.
'Some people have no idea where I am,' he says. 'Those clients who do know I'm now in Greece seem to find it rather entertaining.'
Cattell has been providing consultancy on legal structures and corporate governance issues for the social economy for more than 10 years, and works for a range of agencies, which in turn support the voluntary sector, charities and social enterprises. As part of this business he offers a specialist company registration service.
As he points out, however, all the information and resources he needs can be found online. 'I'll be on the internet several hours a day,' he says.
The internet also provides him with his banking needs. He has kept his Co-operative Bank account and uses a local ATM to draw cash. Clients are invited to settle their invoices online, although if necessary a business associate banks cheques in the UK for him. Although he accepts he is at potential risk from currency fluctuations, he has not found it necessary to open a Euro business account. 'I don't have any clients in Greece ,' he says.
The number of Britons using IT and telecommunications to telework has been increasing gradually in recent years, with the latest government statistics showing 2 million people teleworking for at least part of the week - double the number seen in 1998. Both the technology and the practice of teleworking have become well established, says Alan Denbigh, executive director of the Telework Association. Despite this, at present only a minority telework internationally.
This could change, particularly as more Britons buy properties abroad. Denbigh says that, predictably, France is the most popular country for cross-border teleworking. He gives the example of a structural engineer based there who works entirely for architects in Britain . 'Every six months or so he comes here to shake a few hands, just to keep the contacts going,' Denbigh says.
Cattell has so far needed to return to Britain only twice. Aided by evening-class Greek learned in Britain before he left, he says he found it easy to settle into his chosen community. So far he has found Greek business procedures relatively straightforward - though Charlie warns that nobody in Greece provides written receipts.
However, not everyone will necessarily find the experience of running a UK business from abroad quite so free of complications, especially when it comes to coping with two tax and national insurance regimes.
Specialist assistance from accountants with suitable expertise is advisable, though for those keen to do it themselves, there are several online sources of information. One good source on tax and social insurance in other EU states is the website of Eurocadres, the Brussels-based European trade union organisation for pro fessionals and managerial workers ( www.eurocadres.org/mobilnet ).
Cattell attributes his success to understanding the formalities and to appreciating the local work culture. In his case, this has meant getting used to power cuts, which hit his town every few weeks, closing down his means of communication with Britain . The answer is simple: 'Go and sit in the local café until the power returns,' he says.
And, of course, appreciate the view.Return to my home page