British tech workers move to warmer countries as winter approaches

Semir Jahic, sales engineering lead in EMEA at Clari, and his wife in the Swiss village of Küssnacht am Rigi.

Semir Jahic

LONDON — With the Northern Hemisphere’s winter around the corner, British tech workers who are now able to work remotely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are moving to warmer countries. 

While it’s hardly Antarctica, not everyone loves winters in Britain, and they’re widely regarded as being long, dark, and cold.

Tamara Evans, an account manager at London-based software firm Tyk, told CNBC she is looking at spending some time in Italy, Portugal and a yet to be decided third country between January and March.

After conversations with colleagues who have already left Britain, Evans plans to stay in Airbnbs and move around every four weeks or so. 

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since joining two years ago,” she said. 

Meanwhile, her colleague Greg Delhon, a product owner at Tyk, is looking to spend some time in the south of France. 

“I’m looking at a month, perhaps more,” he said. “I don’t have any particular reason to stay in the U.K., especially in winter, and it’s great that the business allows me the flexibility to spend as little or as much time abroad as I like.”

Tyk has a flexible remote working policy whereby staff can work from wherever they want, whenever they want. It currently has just under 80 staff in 26 countries.

Morning beach sessions

A business development manager who works for a software provider in London told CNBC she moved to the Greek island of Crete in the first week of September.

The woman, who wasn’t sure her boss would approve of her talking publicly about her remote work location, intends to spend a few months there “working full time and moving around different parts of the island.”

She works from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Greek time, meaning she gets to spend the morning on the beach when she wants to. Each week or so, she said she will move to a new Airbnb or short-term let.

Her company was happy for her to go on the premise that her work output didn’t drop and she eventually comes back. “As long as the work gets done it is fine,” she said.

Given the very nature of their work, tech firms can often embrace remote working far more easily than companies in other industries.

Semir Jahic, a Swiss entrepreneur who lives in London, said he and his wife plan to take a six-month break from London.

“The plan now is to spend two to three months in Switzerland and then spring in Airbnbs in Spain (e.g. Valencia) before coming back to London,” he told CNBC. “We’ll put our stuff in storage and register an address with friends. At least that’s the plan. Might also spend all the time in Switzerland depending on the second wave.”

Cheap with great food

Thamim Ahmed, a researcher at University College London’s Centre for Blockchain Technologies, has got his eye on Malaysia.

“You can stay in a 4-5* hotel for ~£600 ($767) per month or an apartment for almost half that” he said, adding that he’s attracted to the country because it’s warm, has great food, and a healthy number of fintech and crypto people. He plans to go for eight to 12 weeks.

Elsewhere, London-based venture capitalist Vijay Vaswani said he’s moving to Dubai for four months. It’s got “warm weather” and it’s “not too far ahead of (the) U.K. time zone,” he said, adding that his firm has adopted remote working for the foreseeable future.

Phil Storey, founder of website maintenance app Glow, has been splitting his time between Barcelona and London, quarantining as required.  

“After months of being ‘locked’ in my house in Yorkshire I decided it’d be great to be able to split my time between Europe and the U.K.,” he told CNBC. “I’ve always loved travel and it’s been a dream of mine for a while to be able to run a business from wherever I happen to be.”

One tech worker who wished to remain anonymous to avoid raising eyebrows with her bosses has recently moved to Israel while another in Ireland is contemplating moving to South Africa for six months in January.  

With a second wave of coronavirus on the way in parts of Europe, some companies are rethinking their policies. 

Rotacloud, a Yorkshire-based firm that makes staff management software, allowed a couple of employees to work from Italy and Switzerland recently. 

“However, with the government guidelines changing, and the likelihood of another lockdown, we’ve had to put the program on pause,” a Rotacloud spokesperson said. “So, if and when the rules change back, we’ll be allowing it again, but obviously don’t know when that’ll be.”

Some have speculated that London’s “Tech City” may never be the same again. “Many founders have temporarily migrated to places like Lisbon, and the VCs are working from their country ‘cottages’,” said venture capitalist Harry Briggs last month.

The big U.S. tech companies employ thousands of people in Britain but it’s not clear whether they’re willing to let their U.K. staff work in other countries. Google, Facebook and Apple did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. Twitter declined to say and pointed to a blog post on remote working. 

However, Twitter said over the summer that employees can work remotely forever and Facebook put out a job ad for a new head of remote working earlier this month, suggesting the company sees remote work as the future.

Some countries are doing their best to attract people that would normally be in an office. Barbados, for example, is planning to let people stay and work remotely for a year.

“You don’t need to work in Europe, or the U.S. or Latin America if you can come here and work for a couple months at a time; go back and come back,” said Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley in a speech in July.

Ex-Googler Rich Pleeth, who now works as a managing consultant for digital consultancy firm Edition7 and invests in other businesses, told CNBC he and his partner are thinking of doing three months of remote work in Barbados. 

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