Sun and sea: Greece wants to conquer digital nomads, but teleworking still has a long way to go

From her garden on an island in Greece, Rowena Harding works with governments and charities around the world. “The best thing is that I can do my job anywhere in the world,” says the Australian-British communications consultant. “I can speak to customers in Myanmar and customers in Rwanda. This morning I worked with clients from northeast Nigeria and from here on a Greek island, ”says Rowena Harding, the Reuters Agency.

Greece is pooling its efforts to attract the teleworking community through ‘greener’ and more digital policies and hopes they will help revitalize the country’s economy and regain its international image after more than a decade in crisis. The country also hopes to kickstart tourism after the worst year in the sector in decades.

For a country near the bottom of the European Union’s digital economy ranking, however, the road to becoming a center for digital nomads – like Bali or Mallorca – is long and full of technological and bureaucratic barriers. If you succeed in a few years after the biggest bailout in history, you will have passed the test of your ability to reshape the economy in a post-pandemic world.

Sitting on a beach near her home, Harding gives the reasons why she moved from Thailand to Aegina, one of the Saronic Islands in Greece, a short boat ride from Athens: low infection rates with the new coronavirus, the climate that good food and a good environment to enjoy life.

In addition to the sun, sea and lifestyle, Greece is planning a visa for working people who are moving in, as well as a 50% reduction in income tax for seven years. The idea is also to attract some of the 800,000 young Greeks who emigrated during the long recession following the 2009 financial crisis.

Rowena Harding, Australian-British communications consultant, teleworking for the Greek agency Reuteres

“If we can work anywhere, why not work from Greece?” Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis told Reuters, citing a study that estimated sales at 1.6 billion euros per 100,000 workers who stay for six months.

Despite Greece’s “great potential”, many workers will be staying for weeks rather than months due to issues ranging from slow WiFi to inflexible visa requirements, said David Williams, CEO of the global real estate market NomadX.

Although Greece has attracted investment from Tesla and Amazon’s “big” technology, the country ranks well below the European average in terms of connectivity, internet use and digital public services and is penultimate in the European Commission’s 2020 index of society and the digital economy Place. Greece’s fixed broadband internet is slower than that of Tajikistan, where only a quarter of the population is online. This emerges from the Global Speedtest Index, which ranked Greece 98th in February.

Last month, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unveiled a multi-million dollar plan called “Greece 2.0,” which includes investments in 5G networks, which Greece implemented in December to enhance its appeal. “Everyone wants to see the sea through the window while they work, but make sure the computer is connected,” said Tourism Minister Theoharis.

Due to the pandemic, teleworking is expected to double by 2021, according to a study by US Enterprise Technology Research.

Rowena Harding, Australian-British communications consultant, teleworking for the Greek agency Reuteres

In an effort to compete with Madeira Island, which has created a digital nomad village, the city of Rhodes launched a digital nomadic observatory. A project called “Work & Paradise” has also been started on the island of Crete, which promises the possibility of working in villas by the pool.

Without a digital nomad register, it is difficult to determine how many there are in Greece. The Facebook group Digital Nomads Athens has 3,600 members from countries such as Ireland, France, the USA and Estonia.

Sanne Goslinga, Talent Director at Marathon Venture Capital, who moved from Berlin, has received several LinkedIn messages from people interested in jobs in Greece. “Generation Z takes risks. They say, “I’ll just see it and I can always go back to my country,” he said.

Stefanos Bournias, born in Greece and raised in Bali, moved from Amsterdam to Lokalize, a Latvian translation software company, in March last year. “Part of me would like Greece to heal many of its problems, particularly human capital and brain drain,” said the 25-year-old from a coworking space.

Bournias was initially discouraged by the lack of opportunities, working conditions and wages. As a foreign resident, he went through “layers and layers of bureaucracy” in order, for example, to obtain military liberation or to open a bank account. “If we ignore all of this and earn a competitive salary from Western Europe, the standard of living here is incredible,” he said.

Nevertheless, Athens ranks only 65th in the NomadsList, which represents the best places for teleworkers, in a list headed by Lisbon.

Rowena Harding, Australian-British communications consultant, teleworking for the Greek agency Reuteres

For some, like Harding, the benefits of Greece outweigh the setbacks they believe include power outages. However, the communications advisor plans to find permanent residence.

In other cases the future is less certain. “It works for me right now,” said Bournias. “But I think I’ll probably be leaving any moment.”

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