As technology makes it increasingly easy to punch the clock in a virtual office, employees once tied to a desk may now have the ability to work from home or even abroad. In fact, studies from Global Workplace Analytics, a research and consultancy firm headquartered in Carlsbad, Calif., show that approximately 3 million U.S. workers that aren't self-employed work from home full time while an estimated 52 million workers have telecommute-compatible jobs. For those who'd rather converse in foreign languages than by the company water cooler, here are 10 of the best gigs for telecommuting while abroad.
The industry is booming as are telework opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for computer and information systems management professionals is $115,780 per year while the sector is projected to grow 18 percent between now and 2020. Norbert Kubilus, president of the Association of Information Technology Professionals, says that certain jobs within the field lend themselves more naturally to teleworking.
"Analysts, programmers, web developers, help desk staff can work remotely," he says. "If people are responsible for the maintenance of a server, that can be done remotely, but you also have to have people who are hands-on to take care of installation and so on."
Kubilus adds that IT pros are most likely to find telecommute opportunities in small- and medium-size companies and that those eyeing remote working opportunities should seek out positions that advertise the possibility for telecommuting.
"Most times, you're not going to go to a company, interview for a job and mention, 'Oh, I want to telecommute,'" he says. "That's not going to fly."
Translation and interpretation
This job might actually reward you for moving abroad. Workers with fluency in a foreign language and sharp communication skills can land jobs in verbal and written translation regardless of where they live, says Carla Itzkowich, executive director of International Contact, a multilanguage communication company that produces marketing materials in 100 languages.
"(Translators) need to invest between $600 to $2,000 in tools of the trade, but once you're set up, you pretty much can work your own hours, your own time, your own home," she says.
Startup costs include a foreign language dictionary, a computer, a fast Internet connection that can support audio or video interpretation sessions and translation management software that prevents workers from using the same verbiage over and over again. Itzkowich adds that certification from an organization such as the American Translators Association can help someone break into the field but may not be absolutely necessary. Pay is typically by the word, so speed and accuracy count. Those who speak a less common language or who can specialize in an area such as finance or medical translation can charge more, says Itzkowich.
Sales personnel and consultants
"Sales people are most conducive to remote offices because (many) don't have an office location in a traditional office. They are located in their homes or customer locations," says Jay Mulki, a Northeastern University associate professor of marketing who has conducted extensive research in the remote working field.
According to the Telework Research Network, sales jobs dominate the work-at-home workforce. A 2011 paper published by the group shows that 70 percent of those working from home hold positions in management, professional, sales and office jobs.
Sales leaders looking to work abroad should seek out companies that have a broad consumer base in the employee's country of choice, says Mulki. They, and all other remote workers, should create a separation between work and home life.
"When you work at home, work never goes away," he says.
PR managers, marketing specialists
According to the Council on Public Relations Firms, a trade organization of more than 100 PR companies, approximately half of its member PR firms experienced double-digit growth during 2011. For 2012, one-third of PR firms expect to increase hiring for workers coming from fields outside of public relations.
Since much of the job revolves around communication, PR workers must be able to draft anything from speeches to press releases and should be able to create and control their clients' public images.
The upside is that much of that work can be done remotely. While public relations work lends itself to telecommuting both domestically and abroad, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employees can expect good job prospects, but long hours -- in 2010, nearly one-third of workers in this field clocked in more than 40 hours per week. The field is projected to increase 21 percent between now and 2020 while the median annual wage currently hovers around $57,550.
Someone has to develop applications, build computer games and create the next wave of can't-live-without-'em digital tools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for software developers is currently $90,530, while the job market will grow much faster than average -- by 30 percent between now and 2020.
Barry Frangipane, co-author of the book "The Venice Experiment," a memoir of his experience working as a software developer for a U.S. company while living in Italy, says that telecommuters working abroad should make sure that they can still interact with their U.S.-based coworkers. To do that, Frangipane's company set up a webcam so that he could participate in weekly company meetings from Italy.
"I could see people at the office at the meetings and they could see me," he says. "We felt like we were really connected."
Developers working abroad should also have access to technological upgrades the company makes. To ensure that his work stayed up-to-date, Frangipane kept one laptop in his U.S.-based workplace, one with him in Italy and linked the two using remote access software.
Customer service representatives
In the ever-expanding world of telecommuting, call center and helpline personnel lead the charge, says Kate Lister, president of the Telework Research Network and co-author of the book "Undress for Success: The Naked Truth about Making Money at Home." While wages in this sector usually lean on the low side -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that customer service reps earn a median salary of $30,460 per year -- opportunities abound in companies that range from medical helplines to fast-food chains.
"When you order a pizza, sometimes the dispatcher is sitting at home dispatching it from somewhere else in the country," she says. "Even the IRS helpline folks are (sometimes) working from home."
Telecommuting in this field comes with its own set of challenges, adds Lister. Finding jobs can be difficult with the wealth of work-from-home scams on the Web, and employees must have a quiet space where they work.
"There's a zero-tolerance policy for background noise," she says. Babies crying, dogs barking or doors slamming can mean losing the job.
Fall ill at a hospital in the U.S. and a transcriptionist in Australia might write up your doc's notes, a specialist in South America could examine your test results, and a top surgeon in Europe could lead the operation by video chat. That's why health care is one of the top fields for telecommuting, says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of Flexjobs.com, a job search site that specializes in telecommute, part-time jobs and positions with flexible schedules.
"The (health care) subcategories that we see the most (telecommuting jobs) in are nursing, pharmaceutical, case management, therapy, medical coding, nutrition and psychiatry," she says. "So much of medicine now is digital. ... You don't have to be in a room looking at an X-ray anymore."
Fell says that telecommuting positions in this field range from data analysts and health care project managers to neurosurgeons who work remotely. Despite the increase in medical telecommute jobs, many positions still require workers to be physically present. To ensure that working from abroad is possible, employees should seek out telecommuting positions and clarify the parameters of telecommuting with their boss upfront.
Workers can create logos, websites, publicity materials and marketing products from any corner of the globe and get paid decently to do so. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 29 percent of graphic designers are self-employed, meaning that many can make their own schedules, and the median pay is $43,500 per year.
Despite the independent nature of the job, many designers work in teams or on collaborative projects. To stay in sync with stateside team members, Jay Mulki says that employees working abroad should focus on communicating clearly, taking active steps to stay in contact with key team members and fulfilling every promise they make in a reasonable time frame.
"You need to come across as a person who is self-disciplined, who can control their work in terms of doing the work and initiating the work ... and be able to access people within the organization," he says.
Training specialists, online instructors, curriculum writers ... the list of telecommuting positions in the education field is extensive. Sara Sutton Fell of Flexjobs.com says that telework education jobs range from language instructors who conduct lessons by phone or video chat to those who work behind the scenes creating and perfecting online teaching tools. The majority of teleworking jobs are available at the college and university levels, she says, "but there's a surprising amount at lower levels or in administrative on the education side."
The trick to landing a telework position is seeing through the scams. To help eliminate ads designed to sap your time and money, Fell recommends using search terms such as "telecommute" and "telecommuting" over "work from home" or "work at home," and carefully investigate companies that post listings for telecommuting jobs.
Administrative managers, support
According to Flexjobs.com, there are currently more telecommute and flexible job positions in administrative work than any other field except medical and health care. Admin jobs may offer the ability to work from anywhere, but salaries are usually low. Workers holding positions such as office managers, financial clerks, bookkeepers, material recording personnel and administrative assistants have median salaries that range from $24,100 for bank tellers to $36,610 for desktop publishers, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Frangipane says that workers in any field who have a job that doesn't allow telecommuting may be able to slowly negotiate a telework option. Frangipane himself started working from home one day per week, then ramped it up to five days over time.
"Once they could see that I had high productivity working from home, then I said, 'Hey, I'm thinking about moving my home,'" he recounts. "Regardless of where you are in the world, if you work the same hours as your office normally expects, then it really doesn't seem to matter much when you move your home a little farther away, like 4,500 miles."
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- Bureau of Labor Statistics