Expat Shares the Joys and Challenges of Working Worlds Away

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A Q&A with Stacy Ennis, business owner, author, mother of two, wife, telecommuting from Phuket, Thailand

Remote work is on the rise. According to a 2018 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than two-thirds of organizations today offer some type of telecommuting option. That’s up from 62 percent in 2017 and 59 percent in 2014.

Best of all, telecommuters aren’t just taking their work to the local coffee house — they’re venturing far and wide to all corners of the globe. For those who love what they do but feel a deep sense of wanderlust, remote work opportunities offer the best of both worlds.

But what about the rest of the family? For most remote workers, time for family is more abundant than ever, at least according to a recent TSheets survey of 500 employees who telecommute throughout the U.S.

Survey respondents said one of the top five benefits to working remotely was being able to look after their kids, while more than 88 percent of those surveyed said their family life had been positively impacted by the change. But what exactly does telecommuting with a family look like?

In an effort to better understand the triumphs and challenges of taking work on the road, we reached out to remote worker and expat Stacy Ennis, who is a writer, consultant, business owner, and co-founder of the group Next Level Women Leaders. She and her spouse, Doug, live in Phuket, Thailand, with their two kiddos, aged 5 and 3. Here’s what she told us about their experience so far.

 

TSheets: What is it like working remotely while seeing the world as a family? What are some of the advantages/disadvantages?

Stacy: We are new to exploring the world as a family — my kids’ life up until now has been in Idaho. Moving to Thailand has brought a lot of challenges (mostly the kids being sick from new germs!), but what I love is the global mindset my kids are forming. It’s incredible to get to expose them to so many different cultures, whether it’s via kids at school, expats living on the island, or tourists who are there for a short time.

I think the greatest advantage so far is having amazing sights, experiences, and food within minutes from our home! The disadvantages have been not having family nearby. But other expats become like family, and I love the sense of community foreigners develop. We need each other.

Also, coming from the U.S., kids have little exposure to other languages. My daughter studies two other languages outside of English, and both of my kids are starting to pick up a little Thai. I wish I’d had the chance to become bilingual when I was a kid.

Finally, for my marriage and family, disrupting our every day and traveling to a new place has brought us closer together. We spend more time together and rely on each other more. I love that.

 

How is it different, raising children overseas, as opposed to in the U.S.? What are some of the unconventional lessons your children have learned along the way?

We are new to raising children overseas, but so far, the biggest difference is they see a lot more of “real life.” We have opportunities to talk to them about poverty, animal welfare, and a number of other global issues that didn’t come up (at least not to the same degree) when we were back home.

From a practical standpoint, Thai culture revolves around family and kids, so it’s lovely going to dinner here! More often than not, someone brings our children a toy (often to keep) or sits down and chats with them. Since it’s a kid-friendly culture, people don’t get annoyed if one of the children throws a tantrum or misbehaves.

 

How do you and your spouse work as a team when you’re working remotely? What strengths or skills do you each bring to the table to make it work?

We have a nontraditional household: I work and travel; my husband stays home with the children. We have to work together as a solid team to keep our life functioning smoothly. He is a competitive athlete, so it’s important that he gets time to ride his bicycle frequently — and I do my best to make space in the day for him to get out and exercise.

Our contributions are roughly split between household management (bills, making medical appointments, etc.) and household care (cooking, cleaning, etc.). I do most of the former and my husband does most of the latter, but we both help out where needed.

 

What memories have you made together, and how have those experiences strengthened your family ties? Also, what are some of the places you’ve visited?

We have made so many memories already, just being a few months in! My favorite days in Thailand are when we get to have a relaxing dinner at the beach and take a walk after, walking in the water and enjoying the calm ocean. So far, we have stayed on the island, but we have a trip coming up soon to either Singapore or Vietnam — we’re still deciding. In the next year, we plan to also visit Cambodia, Malaysia, Switzerland, and France.

Before we had kids, my husband and I lived in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. We traveled all over both of those countries and had so many amazing adventures. To date, my favorite place is a little beach called La Playita in the Dominican Republic. We stayed nearby in Las Galeras, and it was heavenly.

 

What has been your greatest success, and does working remotely ever make it challenging to be successful?

I’m proud of the work I’ve done over the years. A few notable projects include ghostwriting for a Nobel Prize winner in medicine and serving as executive editor for the Sam’s Club magazine, “Healthy Living Made Simple.” I’m especially excited about my new co-authored book, “Growing Influence,” which came out September 18. And finally, I’m proud of the profound, life-shifting training my co-founders and I are delivering through Next Level Women Leaders.

There are certainly challenges to working remotely when building a business, but honestly, I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. My travels and lifestyle give me a different perspective on the world, which enriches the work I do for clients. I’ve been fortunate to work with people who respect the type of business I’ve built, and I tend to attract like-minded colleagues, friends, and clients. Honestly, work is amazing. I’m grateful.

 

What does your average workday look like, and how do you juggle your professional time with family time?

My workday has changed drastically since we moved to Thailand. I used to work a typical day from 7:30-6 (yes, long hours, but I usually took a long lunch to exercise). Now, I work from roughly 8:30-3 during the day and 8-9 or 10 in the evening for calls with people in the U.S. On days that I don’t have calls, I try to get off by 4 so I can spend time with my family.

I also travel a lot, which can be disruptive to my work schedule, but I’ve learned to adapt and work on the road. During September, for example, I’ll be gone three weeks to promote “Growing Influence” and deliver a training for Next Level Women Leaders. It’s important that I remain flexible so I can get work done while I’m out in the world.

 

Would you recommend a remote work lifestyle to someone with a family? What words of wisdom would you pass along to make the experience better/simpler?

Definitely! I think anyone can thrive working remotely if they’re willing to remain open and flexible and welcome new experiences. Living abroad can be hard at first, but after a few months, it gets much easier; after the first year, you really start to feel like you understand the country. For anyone who is considering such a move, I’d say go for it, be realistic with your expectations, and be patient. It takes time to adjust, but after that adjustment period, living abroad can be amazing.

 

Could you see yourself doing this forever? If not, why?

Hmm. That’s a tough question. I will travel forever, but we are still sorting out what the long-term living situation looks like for our family. I know we plan to settle stateside once our kids are in middle school, and we’ve talked about the travels we’ll do in our golden years, but it’s hard to know. We are taking it an experience at a time.

 


Hey, accountants! Check out our remote work webinar!

If you happened to miss our remote work webinar last month, titled “How to Be Successful While Being at Home,” don’t fear! Katey Maddux, Christine Gali, and Zach Cochran did a great job laying out their tips and tricks for working remotely in the accounting profession. And what’s more, they recorded their conversation, so you can still catch this webinar and many others geared toward accountants.

1 Comment

  1. Heidi Tune says:

    Loved reading this article. My husband and I both work remotely for two different companies. My husband’s job allows him to travel through out the world and we have discussed the possibility of moving to other countries within the next year or so. We have grown children (almost 18 years old and 21 year old), so raising kids are not a factor, but this article was still very interesting. I got to go visit Malaysia with my husband last March and we spent two weeks there. It was an eye opening experience for me. I recommend everyone go visit there.

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