Both Shan and Weiss have been working abroad in far-off time zones since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when they decided to stay in the regions they were visiting rather than return to the United States.
They’re both part of a movement of working remotely abroad that shows people are willing to take on the logistical hurdles of working sometimes completely opposite schedules from their teams for the privilege of traveling.
The appeal to ‘work from anywhere’
Remote-work programs as far away as Estonia and Georgia have been attracting Americans who have been itching to travel again. Both nations are not allowing Americans to enter as tourists, but they are permitting those who want to visit on a long-term visa. Closer, more tropical locations like Barbados and Jamaica are offering similar setups.
Shan and her partner have been in Australia since February, when they went to visit family. In April, when coronavirus cases were mounting in the United States, “I just said it’s not a good idea to go back right now, safety-wise,” Shan says. They are now living with her partner’s family and visiting friends outside Sydney when they can.
Weiss was visiting Belgrade with the same intent of staying a few weeks. But when lockdowns hit the country in March, he decided to stay put and work indefinitely from Eastern Europe. It paid off, he says, as he has been able to travel around the country with his girlfriend, whom he met after the lockdown ended.
“There are lakes, forests and mountains that resemble the Pacific Northwest, which is perhaps why I fell in love with the place,” Weiss says, noting that he is relieved not to be in the region as wildfires rage. “I’m definitely glad to be far away from the Pacific Northwest at this time. There haven’t been as many challenges here in Serbia, barring the initial draconian lockdown for almost two months … [which] seems to have worked, as the infection rates in Serbia are less than 50 per day.”
The challenges of extreme time-zone differences
Of course, it hasn’t all been butterflies and adventures. The extreme time difference demands some drastic changes in working hours.
“I tend to work around-the-clock in batches. It works for me because I can spend the entire day out, then come back in the late afternoon when everyone is waking up,” Weiss says. He notes that sometimes working until 3 a.m. can be difficult, but he says it’s worth it for “more freedom to travel at this time.”
Shan’s time zone is 17 hours ahead of California’s, which requires her to work Saturdays and check in with her boss sometimes as early as 3 a.m.. Her afternoon hours are at her discretion, since they occur during California’s evening.
Weiss and Shan are accustomed to being digital nomads: Weiss’s company is based on his travel writing, and he has long worked remotely across the globe, occasionally returning to the Pacific Northwest. Shan says she recently spent two years backpacking across Europe and Southeast Asia, which is how she met her Australian partner before securing her current job.
How others can work abroad
Kate Kendall, a writer who has worked remotely and the CEO of freelance community CloudPeeps, says teams working across differing time zones are becoming more common, thanks to the check-in work style Shan and Weiss use. She says that “asynchronous” work, or working hours that don’t take place at the same time, is key.
“In order for it to work you have to have a company culture that is open to non-real-time communication,” Kendall said via email. “It’s quite [a] common way to work in tech startups now.” Asynchronous work allows messages to be transferred and received as team members’ schedule permits, via any method of communication the team chooses to use.
“Asynchronous communication is what makes remote teamwork sustainable, and when time zones are wide apart, it’s essential,” Pilar Orti, a remote work coach and director at Virtual Not Distant, told The Washington Post via email. “Agree on reply times, and which communication channels you will use for what. ... You need to develop formal systems to capture informal conversations.”
If hours are set to totally different time zones, Kendall warns that it may not be sustainable: “You can quickly burnout working remotely if you don’t focus on creating healthy boundaries between your work and life.” Remote work in a different time zone ideally shouldn’t be permanent if you are required to log many hours that align with your team and are difficult for you to maintain.
Weiss “wouldn’t particularly advise someone to work in a different time zone as it’s not something everyone is equipped to handle,” he says. “People that would thrive working U.S. hours in Europe, for example, are night owls and workaholics. I confess to [being] both.”
Weiss and Shan say they plan to return to the United States in spring 2021. Weiss says he looks forward to spending a few months in the Pacific Northwest. And Shan says she plans to spend some time with family, who have been keeping her updated on the U.S.’s struggles with both the pandemic and the fires.
“My friend at home was just saying how she misses such simple things, like sitting in cafes, going to fitness studios,” Shan says, both of which she has been able to do in Australia. “Calling them really puts in perspective for me how lucky I am.”