- A remote worker based in Germany secretly works from the Canary Islands during the winter.
- He said the mental and physical health benefits have made him more productive at work.
- But constantly concealing his location from his boss and colleagues can be exhausting, he told Insider.
This as-told-to essay is based on conversations with a remote worker at a major company based in Germany. He spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to protect his career but Insider has verified his employment with documentation. His words have been edited for length and clarity.
This winter is the third time I’ve worked remotely in a different country without my employer’s permission. My boss and co-workers have no idea.
The first time was after I had just moved to Germany during the beginning of the pandemic. I was going through relationship issues and lockdown at the same time, in a city I had never lived in before, with a new job. So there were a lot of compounding elements.
At a certain point, I realized I didn’t care if I lost my job — I needed to escape the city. It was under a harsh lockdown and you couldn’t go anywhere. Since I didn’t know anybody, there was no point in me being there other than the job itself, which was remote.
I decided to go somewhere where the weather was nice and continue working and just see what happens. If they fire me, they fire me. So I moved to Portugal for a month, and it went without a hitch.
I traveled around, surfed, and then came back to Germany later in the fall and nobody was the wiser. I got my work done — I actually got promoted and got a raise — so clearly, I was doing a good job.
So I thought, well, then the rest is just a bureaucratic mess. They’re creating these rules against working in other countries for insurance and tax reasons. But with a company this size, that doesn’t really affect me on a personal level. They’re just protecting themselves. And in retrospect, I’m protecting myself too by prioritizing my physical and mental well-being.
I’m more productive at work because I’m living a happier and healthier lifestyle
The warmer climate and more active lifestyle has improved his physical and mental health, the remote worker said.
Massimiliano Maddanu/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Since Portugal went so well, the next year I decided to try out living in the Canary Islands for an even longer period of time. It was great. I got my work done, I was happier, more motivated, and more focused. I even started writing my first book.
At first, I was staying in hostels and then ended up renting my own apartment through Airbnb and subletting my apartment back in Germany. I also rented a separate co-working space for $100 a month so I had real work-life balance. In total, my apartment rent plus the co-working space was equal to or less than my rent back at home.
Monday to Friday I wake up, maybe take the first few meetings on my phone, and then walk 20 minutes into a small town where my co-working space is.
There are never more than 10 people there and they are always smiling and happy (a really great change from Germany). I sit down with my laptop and get to work. At lunchtime, depending on the weather and the waves, I either go to lunch or take my surfboard and go surf for an hour or so, because surfing is just 10 minutes away from my co-working space.
I wrap up my day between five and seven o’clock, sometimes later. I’ll walk back to my apartment, which is on a beach. Sometimes I stop and play volleyball with a local group I joined.
I’m actually moving toward my career goals faster than I would be if I was stuck in Germany, which is a weird way to think about it. I’m making the best use of my time and being productive and efficient while doing what I love. I think that’s very contextual depending on who you are, what type of job you have, and your work ethic.
I’m a very motivated person — I have very specific work goals both within my company and externally. By being in a place that keeps you in a good mood and allows you to be happy and healthy, you’re naturally going to be more effective and efficient.
No matter what it costs, I plan on trying to keep this lifestyle as long as it’s sustainable. The main problem now is that I’m figuring out if it’s possible for my girlfriend to join me.
Concealing my location from colleagues can get complicated, and doesn’t always feel great
The remote worker said he subleases his apartment in Germany while renting an apartment and co-working space in the Canary Islands for the same price.
There are a ton of things to keep track of when it comes to concealing my location from my company and boss.
Something as small as the tropical bird sounds on the island could give me away — it’s silent as the night in Germany during the wintertime. Also, if it’s too bright outside, that can be an issue. So I’m always paying attention, double-checking the camera to make sure nothing will give away where I am.
I permanently changed my laptop time to Germany time in case I have to share my screen. Excluding a small percentage of the time, I always try to work in a quiet place, preferably facing a blank wall behind me.
I’m not sure if the company is tracking employee IPs — you hear stories about that sometimes. I use a VPN just in case.
But if the company really wanted to find out who’s working remotely, they could. There are so many programs that can track your location.
Since I frequently go into our office during the summer, I set physical and verbal expectations with colleagues on when they should expect me to come into the office. I let them know ahead of time that they will rarely ever see me there in the winter because I’ll be “working from home.”
When I’m back momentarily in Germany, I don’t want people to see me in the office every day back-to-back because then if I’m all of a sudden gone for two months, they’re like, “Oh, I haven’t seen him in forever.”
Getting international travel approved by my company was impossible, so I’m actively looking for a more flexible job
The remote worker attempted getting international travel approved by his company but his requests were rejected, he said.
I actually did attempt to do this by the book at first. I talked to my manager and HR to try to get a contract that would allow me to work remotely in other countries for part of the year. They ultimately rejected my request.
Now, the company uses an automated system that pumps out an answer on whether or not you’re allowed to work abroad immediately. They have a set of variables and if the variables match in a line, you’re given an approval status — if they don’t, you’re not. I put in my dates, I put in where I wanted to work from, if I had a visa to go there, all that kind of logistical stuff, and it said no. I couldn’t debate it.
Keeping up the ruse is getting really complicated. Because of that, I am actively hunting for other jobs that are more flexible on international travel. It’s also not nice. I don’t want to have to keep deceiving people purposefully, even though I’m not hurting anybody.
I love the freedom that remote work allows but value in-person collaboration
Now that I’m moving into more leadership positions, team building is a larger part of my job. Having a strong relationship with your team is hypercritical.
During the summer I go to those team lunches and workshops. But as more people become accustomed to remote policies — including me — we’re going to need to find new avenues of building those organic connections, as you would bumping into people at the watercooler. One idea I think could work is having off-site meetings once a quarter when all employees, no matter where they’re working, come in for a week or two and intensely collaborate together.
I don’t necessarily need to have an office, but I do like having one. I think a cool office with perks like free food and a gym is a big promotion for getting employees to come on site. Stuff like that is helpful, but companies shouldn’t force people to come back — create incentives and make people want to come back on their own volition.