Many people who dream of moving to France find that the way to make it a reality involves working alone and often at home.
But this isn't exactly ideal when you're trying to integrate with, and settle down in, a new culture.
Whether your company has allowed you to keep doing the same role from your new French home, you've started out freelancing as an auto-entrepreneur or you've decided to take the opportunity to pen your novel or pursue another creative endeavour, things can get lonely.
Our readers who have experience of working from home in France have passed on their valuable knowledge about how to survive — and hopefully even come to enjoy — working solo.
Several suggested joining an online network of professionals working from home in France.
“Get yourself a group of business buddies – either online or local,” said Micala Wilkins who has worked from her French home for seven years. “I am part of a huge networking group Ladies in Business in France with 4000+ ladies and this has helped enormously.”
“You ask questions, they get answered, in turn you share your experience and knowledge with others,” she said, adding that the group isn't restricted to online.
“We encourage meet ups and lunches to nurture relationships and brainstorm ideas. We have certainly seen ladies in the group become more interested in co-working spaces across France,” she said, adding that it was important to avoid becoming “screen dependent” and “to get out and meet people – either through hobbies or business.”
Another reader, who did not want to be named agreed that getting out and meeting people was key, especially as they can provide the opportunity to speak French.
“I'm in a mid-size French city and there are a few co-working groups on meetup.com here. They're just groups of freelancers who meet in cafés around the city, usually once a week, and work together for a few hours,” said the reader.
“It's a chance to practise speaking French, it's useful for networking, and it's good company. If there aren't any groups in the city already, it's easy to start your own and post an ad online. I imagine the cafés are happy for the guaranteed extra business, so they would probably help you promote it too,” she added.
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“La Ruche”, a co-working space in the heart of Paris. Photo: AFP
'You can focus on language later'
However reader Shannon Pratuch, who has been working from home in France for eight years, said that working on your language doesn't have to be your first priority, suggesting it's more important to get out there and socialise.
“Find meet ups and networking events. Don't limit it to French-only at first, even if you are working on your language skills. Start with any networking or collaborative event that gets you out and engaged. You can focus on language later,” she said.
Shannon suggested taking yourself away from your home office during working hours, saying that the co-working spaces in Paris have “greatly improved in number and quality.”
“If you live outside of that area, I would suggest finding a coffee shop or restaurant frequented by ex-pats that will allow a laptop for an hour or two. Don't overstay your welcome or abuse the wifi.”
She also said that even if you don't have any colleagues, it's worth getting your routine aligned with the French working day.
“Start earlier in the day so you can take advantage of the long French lunch hour without guilt,” she said, adding that when you do take the time to eat away from your home office, make sure that they are with people.
“Starting early also means you can have a guilt free apero. Nothing is worse than trying to squeeze in a deadline as you watch everyone take advantage of a glorious late afternoon.”
Others said that for those working alone on a day-to-day basis but part of a larger organisation, it could make sense to pay a visit back to the HQ every now and then, if possible.
“For me, making a week-long trip back to DC every 6-8 weeks to be in the office with my colleagues and seeing clients was very important,” said Missi Tessier, who spent three years telecommuting from Paris to Washington, DC,” she said, adding that when you are working with clients in a different time zone it's important to stick to a normal schedule.
“Since I was working almost exclusively with East Coast US colleagues and clients, I had to resist the regular temptation to take calls long past dinner.”
Tessier also stressed how essential it is to get out and about during the day to avoid feeling lonely.
“Avoiding daytime isolation and appreciating being in Paris was also important – I would normally give myself the middle of the day to meet a friend, go out to a new neighborhood, and immerse myself in French surroundings.
“Had I not had a daughter in an international school in Paris that provided a natural base of potential friends, it would have been much more difficult to meet people while pursuing my work alone.”
If you know you're going to be working from home, you might also want to think about where you live because while the French countryside can seem very alluring, it can also be isolating.
“When you're spending all day at a desk alone, and don't know that many people, being at the heart of things has made an enormous difference – just being able to pop out the door to go to the boulangerie or the local shop has helped get past the sense of social isolation that could otherwise get you down,” said Sinead Jefferies who has been working from home in France for almost four years.
The “Casaco” co-working space in Malakoff in Hauts-de-Seine. Photo: AFP
And would our readers recommend working from home in France?
Well, unsurprisingly people were divided although the majority believed the positives outweighed the negatives.
One reader stressed that working from home gives you a flexibility that can be hard to find in a traditional working environment which can be particularly helpful when you're starting out fresh in France.
“It gives you the flexibility you need to start a new life,” she said. “If you're working from home, you can take the time to find the region or city that best suits your interests (rather than just going where the job is).
“You have to make the effort to get out and meet people – and to find opportunities to speak French – but that can still be the case when you're employed by a local company.”
Working from home also means that you might be able to make an income in places where it would normally be difficult to find a job.
“It has suited my particular situation – health problems mean that a job elsewhere for fixed hours would be difficult. I live in an area of low employment so creating my own job has been great for me. I can be flexible so can still enjoy the reasons we had for moving to France in the first place – the weather, the countryside, the people,” said another reader.
For example, Sinead Jefferies said that the flexibility of working from home means that she can go cycling in the “gorgeous Dordogne countryside”.
Others said however that it's important you know what you're doing, with several readers saying that if you are working within an existing business structure it will be a lot easier than starting from scratch.
“If you are attempting to deal with French culture shock and running your own business solo, you will fail. I would only suggest this to a seasoned solopreneur looking to live in France,” said Shannon.
Another reader said that working from home in France can actually leave you at a disadvantage when it comes to work/life balance.
“French culture is obsessed with work-life balance,” she said. “My partner is French and he is able to switch off his work brain when he comes home. Because I’m a journalist and photographer, I feel like I am working all the time.
“There is no off switch for me and all my French friends think I’m a workaholic. There are also very little benefits and protection as a freelancer here in a France. Sometimes I question what the hell I am doing here.”