As companies work to cut costs and retain talent, telecommuting is becoming increasingly common. But some workers, like software engineer Barry Frangipane have taken the concept even further. In fact, Frangipane spent 13 months in Venice telecommuting to his job in the States, an experience he chronicled in his new book, The Venice Experiment.
Frangipane and his wife aren't independently wealthy nor did they wrack up thousands of dollars in credit card debt while abroad. Instead, they found ways to make it work on a middle-class budget by selling both their cars (Venetians mainly walk or ride the traghetto, gondolas with no seats), renting out their home in Florida, and meeting friends for wine or coffee instead of full meals out.
"We both prided ourselves on being great cooks, so we'd be able to experiment with European dishes in our own kitchen—in Europe!" says Frangipane, who landed a promotion after returning to the States. Meanwhile, his wife enrolled in chef school after learning to cook with local ingredients in Venice, and they hope to do another experiment living in Paris someday. He offers these tips to others who'd like to experience day-to-day life in another country without quitting their day job.
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1. Start small. Instead of waltzing into his boss' office to announce that he was moving to Venice, Frangipane proposed working from home one day a week to demonstrate to himself and his company that it could work. "They could see that my productivity had increased, because I didn't have any of the normal interruptions and office chatter," he says. "I was getting so much more done."
Next, Frangipane and his wife rented an apartment in Venice for two weeks, during which he brought his laptop and "took a number of support calls and was able to perform all of the things that I could have done from home with equal effectiveness." Then he approached his company with a plan and promised to return in a year (or sooner, if it didn't work according to plan).
Of course, telecommuting (whether from across town or across an ocean) does require a level of self-direction that not everyone has. "If you find that emptying the dishwasher and doing the laundry is more important, then it's not gonna work," says Frangipane. "Those people generally find something better to do at the office. But if you're goal-oriented, then this can be a win-win situation for you and your company."
2. Agree to a consistent schedule. Part of Frangipane's agreement with his employer was that he would keep same business hours as he'd kept in Florida: 2-11 p.m. in Venice is 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Eastern Time. For the first few months, Frangipane and his wife started their days at a local café, then walked across town to a language school for Italian lessons. He'd return home by 2 p.m. local to start working, after which he'd stroll along the canals enjoying a cup of pistachio gelato.
Frangipane and his company opted not to tell many of his clients he'd left, so many had no idea. He used voice over IP with a headset plugged into his router to stay in touch, but he also says that the sound quality of Skype has improved enough to use it for professional communication.
Frangipane also knows a graphic designer who kept his yellow pages ad in Boulder, Colo., and continued working with clients while living in the south of France. "It didn't matter [where he worked], because he was emailing them the artwork anyway," he adds.
3. Just do it. Thinking through logistics like visas and travel arrangements can be daunting, but "if you're goal-oriented, you'll stop thinking of reasons why you just couldn't do this and you'll set a date," says Frangipane. "Once you set a date, the obstacles start to disappear."
As for visas, Frangipane says, "many people who are telecommuting for a year or less as we did will obtain a one-year tourist visa. It's very simple to get, and legitimizes the process. The most important requirement for a one-year tourist visa in Italy was to have a signed, registered, apartment lease for the entire year, to submit with your visa application."