'Extreme Telecommuting' from Across the Globe Yields Rewards

By SHRM Online staff Dec 12, 2011

You don’t have to tell Barry Frangipane that the Internet has made the world a little smaller.

Frangipane, a software engineer, was used to telecommuting from his home in Tampa Bay but didn’t realize how far telecommuting could reach. Then he and his wife, Debbie, decided to move with their two daughters to Italy for a year while Frangipane telecommuted to his software job in the states—an experience he chronicled in his 2011 memoir The Venice Experiment.

“Anyone could move to a foreign country with a ton of money. We wanted to see if a typical middle-class couple could do it, with a job. We looked at the realities of it, and theorized it could work," Frangipane said. "On the downside, my wife wouldn’t be able to keep her job, as she did not telecommute. On the upside, we could sell both cars and eliminate the monthly tab for two car payments and the associated insurance. Further, we both prided ourselves on being great cooks, so we’d be able to experiment with European dishes in our own kitchen.”

The Frangipane family relocated to Venice for 13 months. Through their experience, they devised the following tips on how others could earn a U.S. income while living abroad.

  • Telecommuting. The changes over the past 10 years for telecommuters have been subtle but together have produced a tipping point making the idea of extreme telecommuting a reality. Advances in the quality of teleconferencing make meetings as effective as they would be in person. In addition, Google and Facebook have launched free, high-quality videoconferencing. "I was gone for 13 months, and most of my clients never even knew I had left," said Frangipane. One challenge to note: Time zone differences might mean getting up extremely early or staying up late to ensure that at least a portion of the working day overlaps with the office hours of stateside colleagues and clients.
  • Housing. Accept the fact that living quarters are a little smaller and a little older in the rest of the world compared with American housing. "Having said that, you’ll wind up spending your nonwork time seeing sights and exploring your new hometown," Frangipane noted.
  • Cars. Choose a place in which travel by car is not necessary. In Venice, for instance, everything is connected by the small tributaries and waterways that thread through the city. "Most everything you need—shopping, groceries, business services,” were a brisk walk or gondola ride away, according to Frangipane.
  • Cook. Expatriate workers can spend a small fortune eating in tourist trap restaurants, or they can buy fresh groceries every day and live as the locals do, creating meals and stopping by the smaller, lesser-known eateries and cafes frequented by the locals.

“For those of us who telecommute to work, we can now live out our dreams and live most anywhere in the world,” Frangipane said.

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