Meet the continental commuters
Where do you call home when your job enables you to live anywhere? The latest wave of high-flying property owners tell Ruth Bloomfield what it's like to be a networked nomad
Friday 17 June 2011
If you think your life is busy, take a look at Freddie Achom's breathless diary for the last two weeks, and think again: the 37-year-old entrepreneur travelled from London to Rome, to visit his son, back to London, where his business empire is based, before moving on to Australia for a week.
He then stopped over in Dubai to meet contacts, punctuated by another brief sojourn in London. He then boarded the Eurostar to Paris, where his girlfriend and daughter live, and then back to London. Throughout all these train and plane journeys Achom has been toting several sets of house keys as well as two phones, a laptop and an iPad in order to keep his varied business interests going – these include Jalouse, a private members bar in Mayfair, the Bennett Oyster Bar & Brasserie in Battersea, a string of property developments and a wine-importing venture.
"I do sometimes go to dinner and just fall asleep," admitted Achom. My phone stops ringing for about three hours a day. Sometimes I'm at a restaurant and it rings and I know people think it is just social, but really I am always at work."
Welcome to the frenetic world of the networked nomads, the on-the-go descendants of the early-Noughties generation of home workers. The nomads have taken things one step further – forget working from the spare room, this tribe hold down their day jobs from anywhere in the globe and maintain two or ven more homes.
Exactly where Achom calls home is something of a mystery – even to him. "Where do I live? Um, London, I would say, where I have an apartment in Hampstead village, or... no... Paris. I have an apartment there too, in the 8th arrondissement, where my two-and-half-year-old daughter and her mother live." Rome is another potential option, since his five-year-old son is based there with his mother, and he is also in the process of buying an estate in Uruguay.
Achom, the son of a wealthy Nigerian politician, relies on meticulous planning and excellent backup to keep his life going: he trusts his business partners implicitly and his assistant dashes to his London flat to stock the fridge before he arrives.
The downside of his lifestyle is, of course, personal. His five-year-old son recently admitted he missed his father when he was away. "It was good to hear him express it – but all I could say was "I will try," he says. "My face to face contact with family and friends is very limited."
A new study by market research firm Mintel suggests that while Achom's lifestyle may be extreme, more and more people are hankering after a global way of life. And they are not talking about twentysomethings who hop from one bar job to another as a means to fund travel.
The Mintel survey found that the more high-powered the worker, the stronger the desire to go nomad. Almost one in seven people in managerial or professional jobs – and almost one in five of those earning £50,000 or more – are attracted to the idea of globetrotting from country to country while keeping up with work via technology.
Mintel notes that the early adopter nomads are, like Achom, self-employed, but major companies are increasingly open to the idea. Computer giant Dell, for example, recently launched a company-wide initiative which allows staff to work at any of its offices across the world, simply by booking a desk.
Jana Sanchez, 46, is the CEO of CitySavvy, an international communications agency with offices in Holland and the UK. She splits her time between a beautiful canal house in Haarlem, just outside Amsterdam, and a "tiny" pied-a-terre near Marble Arch. Her husband is based full-time in Holland and she flits between the two.
Sanchez rents her London flat which costs her around £1,500-per-month, and chose the apartment for its lock-up-and-leavability, relying on her cleaner or the doorman to alert her should there be a problem such as a burst pipe. "At which point I'd have to call the management company, and probably call them again and again," she said.
Her split-nation lifestyle means Sanchez must carry four sets of keys around with her – for the two home and two offices she uses. On the plus side she is able to offer the flat to colleagues and friends visiting London, which must make her a popular friend, and since she rarely cooks, the fact that the fridge will be inevitably empty when she arrives "home" isn't a problem.
A keen user of social networks, Sanchez relies on Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch with friends – her husband was recently infuriated to discover she was unexpectedly back in Holland; rather than phoning him she had announced the news via Twitter.
"There are pluses and minuses," she says. "It is really nice to have two nice places to live, and I am never bored, but I can't see my husband as much as I would like." Nonetheless, her business set-up makes spending time in both countries essential and there are advantages in keeping a flat. "I can watch what I want on television, it is almost like being single, and my husband also enjoys having his space," she says.
However, while the Haarlem house, built in 1880, has been recently refurbished in "comfortable, rustic" style and is very much a beloved family home, the London flat remains anonymous. Sanchez rented it furnished but chose to replace some particularly hideous pieces left by her landlord. Yet it remains, effectively, a hotel suite permanently at her disposal, stocked with clothes and cosmetics, but little in the way of interior flair. "I have not made it massively personal, it is not homely," she says.
Sanchez says that the other downside of the nomadic lifestyle is cost: although the London flat is tax deductible it is still a drain on resources, and all that travel doesn't come cheap.
Thanks to her marriage Sanchez is a Dutch citizen, and pays tax in Holland. "It's hard to get a good answer on this, but I don't think there are any tax implications for me because I am working within the EU," she says.
In fact, the financial ramifications of splitting your time between borders are fearsomely complex. Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, explains that if you work outside the UK for more than 183 days each year then you become "non-resident for tax purposes" and enter a convoluted world where you may need to pay local tax in the country or countries you work in, as well as tax on income derived in Britain to the HMRC.
Missing National Insurance payments will have an impact on your pension rights and if you have a home in, say, France you may also be subject to local levies such as a wealth tax on property. On the plus side a second home may be tax deductible. "You really need to take advice and make sure you are up to speed," says Roy-Chowdhury.
Despite these complexities James Bellini, a futurologist specialising in business models, believes that what we are seeing is the "end of the job".
He considers freelance an old-fashioned term, preferring to style these footloose workers as free agents. "Employers got a terrible fright of the recession, and 50 per cent of the jobs being created in the UK now are 'free agent jobs'," he says. "Companies are basically not hiring, it is a leaner, thinner business model."
The good news about this lean, mean environment is that workers are being freed up to live wherever they want. "This kind of lifestyle is something we will see more of," predicted Bellini. "In 500 years time they will look back at us and say 'ooh, they had these things called jobs, and they worked in things called offices'."
Life on the roadJackie Kariithi splits her life between Kent and Kenya, which sounds like a culture shock and a half. But the 32-year-old, who embarked on life as a networked nomad in 2006 when she founded an ethical travel company specialising in home-stay holidays in Kenyan villages (www.gse-ecotours. com ), says the people of Maidstone have more in common with the residents of Nairobi than you might think.
"Nairobi is a very cosmopolitan city," she pointed out. "It is when I go to the villages that I see the real change."
When in the UK Kariithi shares a flat with her sister, and she owns an apartment in Nairobi. She spends a couple of months in each place at a time to avoid endless plane-hopping and uses Skype, her phone and email, as a way of keeping in touch.
"Modern communications are so great, I don't even really think about it," she said. "It does get tiring, but I don't mind that."
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