Working From ‘Home’ in a Foreign Country During Lockdown

Feature Image: Smiling Anna on Hel Beach. Hel, Poland / Gosia Shannon

Tips for making the most of a telecommute trip

By Anna Shannon, Guest Writer

Many of us are working from home, but what if ‘home’ could be anywhere? With my office in the UK showing no signs of easing the work-from-home guidance anytime soon, I took the plunge and – in a nod to my heritage – decided to live in Poland for a month and work from there. All I needed was a good internet connection, my laptop, and, of course, a face mask.

Making travel plans during a pandemic

Preparing to travel during COVID-19 is not a decision to take lightly, being far from the typical situation where you can take a fairly flexible approach to travel – my usual style. Each country has a variety of different safety measures and necessary restrictions in place that can be changed without notice, as we’ve seen over recent weeks.

Poland is no different. It began gradually opening its borders in mid-June to a number of European countries, suggesting the situation was slowly improving. However, the UK was still on Poland’s restricted travel list. And there was also the return quarantine period to think about as the UK had imposed a 14 day quarantine for anyone returning. Was my Poland travel idea a wishful dream?

I got the green light from work in any case, confirming that if I went, working from Poland would only be a temporary situation. You can sign up to receive travel alerts on the UK Government website, requesting an email update every time information is changed on the Poland page. Nifty feature, although I didn’t realise quite how often it was updated.

Ding ding. An email confirming UK travel to Poland is now permitted with no required quarantine needed. Excellent! I booked my flights, looking forward to embracing my Polish side and eating delicious proper Polish foods – from pierogi (fried dumplings) to gofry (waffles). Better yet, after floating the idea with my mum, she joined me for a short period. A wonderful chance to spend more time with her as we both live in different cities, and the UK lockdown had really put into perspective how important family is (some of which live in Poland).

Polish gofry - waffles with whipped cream

Polish gofry (waffles), Gdansk, Poland / Anna Shannon

Flying to Poland during COVID-19

I wouldn’t usually research the complexities of a plane, however, hearing rumblings that passengers essentially sit in ‘stale’ air during a flight doesn’t sound appealing in the current corona climate, even for a short flight to Poland. I did a little digging to see for myself (always check the sources of your social media stories people). Turns out there are typically fairly sophisticated HEPA air filters on planes, aiding regular airflow, and refreshing the cabin air with outside fresh air, several times an hour. These filters mean the cabin air environment “is not conducive to the spread of most infectious diseases” as documented by the CDC.

Surprisingly, the plane was busy, despite the airport being fairly quiet, with significantly less people roaming around, given there were significantly fewer flights. The airport did a good job with encouraging social distancing with seats blocked off, meaning you could sit comfortably away from other people. Only Boots and Pret-A-Manger were open at the airport, for all your last-minute pharmaceutical and caffeine essentials, provided you were happy to queue and pay on card, minimising human contact. The make-up counters were wrapped in that industry cling film wrap, topped with metal railings, preventing anyone from getting close. No customary airport perfume squeeze for me this time.

Empty shops at London Luton airport departures terminal

The usually bustling airport shops in Departures now quiet. London Luton Airport / Anna Shannon

Floors signs in the arrivals terminal

Floor signs in Arrivals advising passengers to keep 2m apart. Gdansk Airport / Anna Shannon

The airline provided hand sanitizer wipes and a detailed contact form to complete so you could be told in case anyone developed coronavirus later on. Good idea, apart from the lack of pen. I carry several pens with me (an essential travel item), and lent one to a fellow passenger. I’m not sure this was the best way to go about avoiding contact with others. We all wore face masks or coverings on the plane too, as was also required upon entering the airport. There was a lady in front of me who was visibly pregnant and I was pleased to see she had been given space so only her partner was next to her.

Getting off the plane, the two-meter rule didn’t seem to apply, even with an overhead announcement reminding people to keep their distance. The passport control queue too was not as spaced out as it could have been too, but on the whole, wasn’t too bad. Next stop – Poland!

Working and traveling in Poland during COVID-19

I work in the Publishing industry and am fortunate to be able to do nearly all aspects of my job remotely, provided I have a good internet connection. Along with the WIFI available in the apartment, I also bought a Polish SIM card for data and hotspot use in the event of any potential WIFI problems. Using a UK mobile provider to hotspot in Poland is not a good option, as the signal is too weak to process essential tasks and systems. I discovered my phone provider imposes a 15GB limit on how much data you can use abroad, even if you have an unlimited data package. This limit was lifted in response to the pandemic, but it is a small print condition I previously hadn’t known about.

Poland is +1 hour ahead of England, so timing was something to consider, especially as I do have meeting-heavy weeks. I thought it best to stick to my usual UK hours to minimise any disruption for my team, and given it was only an hour difference, there wasn’t too much disturbance – perhaps only lunchtime.

I added in some annual leave days to relax and explore Poland during my working week, often working a three- or four-day week, instead of the usual five, to make the most of my time there, especially whilst my mum was there too. We walked or used public transport to visit different places, mostly beaches.

Generally speaking, traveling in Poland during this pandemic feels fine. Face coverings are required on every mode of transport and the majority of people are abiding by the rules, so pack plenty. Seats are often blocked off to help keep people distanced, and the capacity of people inside a tram or bus is reduced and has been specified on the doors (at least in Gdańsk it was). Taxi-wise, the drivers wear face coverings and usually have the windows down to aid airflow. There are also lots of cycle lanes, accommodating cyclists (and electric scooters which are available for hire) well and safely, so you can avoid public transport altogether if you want to.

Bus signs describing how stay safe during COVID 19, Poland
Signs on a bus in Poland saying how to stay safe during COVID

Bus stop signs providing information on how to stay safe during COVID-19. Gdansk, Poland / Anna Shannon

Row of electric scooters lined up. They are popular in North Poland
An empty train platform as they wait for their connection
A sign shows passengers not to sit on the marked seats

(Clockwise from left) Electric scooters are popular in North Poland. Gdynia, Poland / Anna Shannon; Signs preventing anyone from sitting on marked seats on the tram to encourage distancing / Anna Shannon; Quiet train platform while we wait for our connecting train to Hel, Gdynia, Poland / Anna Shannon

(From top) Electric scooters are popular in North Poland. Gdynia, Poland / Anna Shannon; Signs preventing anyone from sitting on marked seats on the tram to encourage distancing / Anna Shannon; Quiet train platform while we wait for our connecting train to Hel, Gdynia, Poland / Anna Shannon

Highlights

Staying in Gdańsk, a large city in Poland’s North, there is the added benefit of the deep Baltic sea bordering the city. And you know what the sea means – the beach (or plaża in Polish)!

During weekends and days off, I explored the many beaches in Gdansk, Gydnia, and Sopot (Tri-City), as well as further afield to the beautiful white sand beaches in Hel. The beaches in Poland feel safe and family friendly, meaning you can happily sit alone in a bikini without worrying about being approached inappropriately. Going for a quick splash, leaving my bag on a towel, was fine too. Saturday seems to be the busiest day, but there is so much sand readily available that spreading out and keeping socially distanced is fine (although I would avoid Sopot’s main street if you want to avoid crowds).

My mum and I loved the beautiful beach on Poland’s peninsula in particular, which is a day trip from Gdańsk (although we both would have liked longer!). Hel (yes, you read correctly, and no, there is no connection between “heavenly” Polish Hel and hell) has the ideal ingredients for a glorious day: White sands, space, and clear (albeit chilly) water. It felt like an oasis, spending the day here with my mum.

Restaurants and shops near the beaches seem to be mostly open as usual, and it’s good to see the staff wear face coverings and seeing tables marked with a little sign to say ‘disinfected’ as part of COVID-19 measures. At first glance, I thought these were reserved signs!

Waves at Brzezno Beach, Gdansk, Poland

Admiring the waves. Brzeźno Beach, Gdansk, Poland / Anna Shannon

Beach shops, Sopot Poland

Beach shops. Sopot, Poland / Anna Shannon

Anna takes a selfie at Stogi Beach

Relaxing at Stogi Beach, Gdansk, Poland / Anna Shannon

Sand on the beach in Gdynia, Poland

Lots of soft sand. Gdynia Beach, Poland /  Anna Shannon

View of Redlowo Beach, Gdynia, Poland

Magical Redłowo Beach. Gdynia, Poland / Anna Shannon

The bottom line

It wouldn’t surprise me if this way of working from home, away from home, becomes more normal. I think as long as there is good communication between you and your employer, with both sides being clear on working hours, expectations, as well as a date for when you plan to come back (for any legal employment reasons) then it seems like a good way to work.

Bigger cities are likely to have faster internet connection speeds, so I would suggest investigating this before you go, as any technical issues will ultimately be your responsibility. It would be good practice would be to try and agree any days off before you go too, so you can make the most of being in another environment and manage your workload at the same time. And, of course, consider any quarantine rules, which can change quickly, so prepare for change as much as you can.

Deciding to work in Poland for a month in these unusual circumstances, taking some holiday days along the way, was a perfect way to spend time with my family and (safely) explore beautiful Poland.

Anna Shannon is a writer, dog lover, and is continuously in awe of nature in all her elements. Follow her on Instagram: @toreadamockingbird & Twitter: @aashannon

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