Greece as a Life and Work Destination
By Endeavor Greece Nov 7, 2021
Digital Nomads and Residents
This interview is one of many seen in our Greek Tech Revolution report. Check out our report and stay tuned with our channels as we publish more interviews featured in the 2020 issue.
If Greece is a wonderful place to live in –something all speakers unanimously agreed on– then more people would consider moving here, if the work conditions and the career opportunities were attractive. Our country has some inherent characteristics that make it a potentially attractive destination for foreign investment and work. According to a survey carried out by the Boston Consulting Group in 12.000 professionals from the USA, Germany, and India, on how they view the future of remote working, most workers prefer having and are searching for greater flexibility in regards to working from anywhere.
“Greece’s best feature is an exceptional talent and exceptional geography,” Ioannis Antonellis, Head of Data Science & Data Engineering for the AI Platform on Facebook, noted at an Endeavor Greece event (“Scaling and Managing Engineering Teams” – 10/12/20), stressing that Greece makes sense as a destination for remote work and remote teams. “The reason people want to stay in Greece is that they can have a wonderful life, walk on the beach every day, and at the same time there are good universities and high-level talents in computer engineering. So, in this world when someone can move anywhere, people can move there for the quality of life.”
As the Greek ecosystem grows, more opportunities will emerge and require skills and experience that, by default, due to the maturity level of the already existing workforce, cannot be covered. “In Dubai where the financial motives, as well as the big opportunities, obviously exist, they were able to convince people to become part of a greater ‘story’. So, if we too create startups with global potential, we will be able to attract foreigners to work at them,” Apostolos Apostolakis believes. “In the large startups, it might be a bit late for someone to join. Many ambitious people want to be part of an entrepreneurial story from the early start, with all the benefits this can have if it is successful. So, promising startups need to be created to convince people to work for them, but in the next growth stages of the ecosystem, we need a different kinds of people. People who seek stability.”
At the same time, one of the biggest changes in the world of work is the regression of the physical presence. Millions of workers around the world worked remotely this past year, while the so-called ‘digital nomads’ are increasing in numbers as a work category. “I believe that an essential realization during COVID-19 is that remote work is possible. Many of the businesses incubating at the moment function with digital services, so the location and the physical boundaries and obstacles are of less importance.” Javier Villamiraz, Operating Partner at SoftBank Vision Fund, notes. So, if you can work from anywhere, why not want to work from a balcony overlooking the Aegean?
Digital Nomads: A New Worker Category
“Talent will always be rare and will be a limiting factor for development, especially when you’re talking- ing about product managers, data scientists, and digital marketers. However, something that benefits cities like Athens, Lisbon, and Marbella is that they can attract companies and their employees to a nice environment with a higher quality of life and good logistics.” How great is the potential of attracting digital nomads to Greece? According to an MIT Enterprise Forum survey, if Greece was able to attract 100.000 digital nomads each year, with an average duration of stay of 6 months, our country would benefit with over 1.6 billion euros. This amount is almost the same as the profit from a one-week stay of 2.5 million tourists in our country. As for the overall financial value of the international community of digital nomads, the amount of the digital nomads’ expenditure each year is estimated at 787$ billion per year, according to the website “A Brother Abroad”. Taking the handling of the pandemic as a starting point, he claims that the financial progress that has been achieved despite the adverse circumstances has already contributed to the shift of the negative image that the country had abroad, as “thanks to the research activity on the coronavirus and to the collaboration of six research centers and four universities the first virus tracking test was produced really quickly in our country, proving that we can be competitive.”
At the moment, according to an MBO Partners’ report, it is estimated that there are over 35 million digital nomads around the world, of various nationalities, while almost 30% comes from the USA. Working in a wide range of fields, with some standing out, like information technology (12%), education and training (11%), consulting, coaching and research (11%), sales, marketing, and public relations (9%) and finally creative services (8%). In the same report, adult Americans who are not presently digital nomads were asked whether they plan to become in the next 2-3 years and 19 million replied yes –an increase of 18% since 2019– with 64 million stating that they might –a 10% increase since 2019.“In the past year and a half, we’ve attracted investments from tech giants like Microsoft, Cisco, Pfizer, Applied Materials, and others. These investments prove that we’re now on the global entrepreneurship map, especially in the field of research and development. The focus is placed on R&D because, among other things, this creates quality and well-paid jobs. Additionally, it’s a good way, on the one hand, to bring Greek scientists back to the country, and, on the other hand, to keep this kind of workforce in the country.
Finally, according to the data from the social network NomadX, the majority of digital nomads working from Greece are based in Athens, Rhodes, Santorini, and Myconos. According to the platform, internations.org Greece was in the 45th place in the overall ranking by ex-pats for 2020, with Athens being on the 50th place of the responding list for cities. Among the first places are Valencia, Alicante, Lisbon, Panama, and Singapore. With innovation being the key to the survival, development, and competitiveness of businesses worldwide, and research and development making the largest contribution towards that direction, supporting, through legislation, an R&D environment is of the utmost importance. With that in mind, 9 months ago, the Ministry of Finance, increased, through legislation, the super deduction tax rate from 130% to 220%.
Remote Work: Pros and Cons The Development of the Tech Ecosystem
Remote work is, obviously, a result of the technological development of 5G that allows reliable access and improved connectivity with the internet. With COVID-19 speeding up the arrival of this new work condition, tech giants but also smaller companies are reassessing their work relations, at least on the way that an employee is asked to work. “I don’t know whether the world will be completely remote in a few years, but I believe that the way people work together has fundamentally changed,” Nicky Goulimi says.
The business world evaluates these developments as very useful for small tech ecosystems like Greece, while, as Nikos Bonatsos of General Catalyst says “many companies around the world with a staff of even a thousand employees, with the help of Zoom, Google Drive and of other tools, no longer have offices, their employees now work totally remote. After all, that is the reason these software programs were created.”
With the first Innovation State in Greece in the old warehouses of CHROPEI in Piraeus already on track, as well as with the similar project “Thess INTEC” in Thessaloniki, which will have been assigned to a contractor by the end of the year or the beginning of 2022, the development of the tech ecosystem is being steadily implemented.
The proportion of remote work and physical presence in the aftermath of the pandemic is not yet clear. With the health crisis, the percentage of people, at least in technological companies, working remotely may even reach 80%, while when the crisis is over, it is possible that this percentage will be lower. When asked about this, Andreas Stavropoulos of Threshold Ventures, characteristically grounded us saying that “there are articles claiming that ‘everyone is going to leave the city and go live in villages and work from there.’ Let’s be realistic, it’s not exactly that way. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. This shock has surely released us from the idea that physical presence is as essential as we believed. It is certain that in the field of medicine, education, and work trips things will permanently change. In general, the trend is to decentralize, but things are not going to turn upside down.”
Christos Tryfonas, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aisera, in Endeavor’s event ‘Scaling and Managing Engineering Teams’ (10/12/20) seems to be even less convinced that remote work is going to replace the physical presence of the team members in an office. “If I had to choose between going remote or being under the same roof, I don’t think the two can compete. Everyone is under the same roof is much better.” One can focus on building products and services without the inconvenience of having to communicate in different time zones. He also shared his doubts about the real differences in cost that usually lead to the creation of a remote team. “I don’t assume that going to Greece or to other countries the cost would be lower. It is not that much cheaper; it can be compared to being some- where in the USA. Not in the San Francisco Bay Area, but somewhere in the USA.” He does however stress that the biggest challenge today is finding talents where one needs them. “In San Francisco, it’s almost impossible to find talents. We have a small office in Seattle, an office in Pittsburgh, an office in New York, We will build offices where we find talent. There is no other way. And what’s good with the COVID-19 situation is that it has made this possible. I no longer need to justify why I’m hiring someone in Greece, India, or New York in a VC.”
Regarding the shaping of the work scene, Nondas Virvidakis’ comments on the preferences of the employees on the issue of working from home are very insightful: “As a company, we’ve conducted a survey to see what people want when we return to a sort of normalcy. Most people prefer to work from home two-three times per week. I imagine this won’t be implemented 100%, but it is certain that there will be more flexibility in the way of work.”
Speaking at an Endeavor event, Alexis Patelis, Chief Economic Advisor to the Greek Prime Minister (“Rethink: Greece As A Top Destination for New Foreign Direct Investment” – 17/2/21) shared his optimism about the potential of Greece regarding investments in the country. “The government’s duty is mainly to offer stability to investors, to make them feel safe. The cost of debt in Greece has decreased to record levels, there is political stability –as opposed to what is happening in many European countries– and we have a majority government in the Parliament.” He does note that the opportunity in the aftermath of the pandemic is both the digitization and the idea that, if one chooses where they want to live, why not live in and work from Greece? “This is at the core of Greece’s unique selling point. It is a beautiful country, as everyone knows. What was missing was stability, which we think that we now have, infrastructure, lower taxation, and, of course, the development of the tech ecosystem.”
The developments with the digital nomads create new conditions in relation to the mobility of natural and legal persons. They create fields of relocation for Greek and foreign workers who, thanks to technological development, can work from their location of choice. The Greek landscape, combined with the climate, the good food, the lower, compared to other countries, prices of houses, and the approachability of the Greeks are features that make this place attractive not only for holidays and tourism but also as a place of residence and work. “Even if it is basic, it constitutes a motive for entrepreneurs,” Nikos Moraitakis says.
However, this is only one side of the coin. The other side includes difficulties and obstacles. Long-term instability of the tax legislation and bureaucracy is considered the most important inhibiting factor. “There is a need for stability,” Nikos Bonatsos stresses, and adds: “One minister changes, and immediately the legislation changes. If we could impose a moratorium for a decade to have stable regulations, it would be essential.” Michael Petychakis, Cofounder and CTO of Orfium, stresses that while a lot of people abroad are working from home during the pandemic, they cannot return to Greece for tax reasons. “There are problems that need to be addressed so everyone can work from wherever they want,” many of which are related to policy on the level of the European Union.
To be clear, high taxes are not seen by everyone as the number one inhibiting factor preventing them from moving or relocating workers and businesses to Greece. Some note that many corrective measures that have already started in the past months need to continue. “The employer’s contributions are still very high, something that we are fighting to change,” Marco Veremis says. Others, like Stefanos Loukakos, remind that “in Ireland taxation is over 50% without it being a problem,” while Panos Papadopoulos mentions the high taxes of Israel and of the USA which also doesn’t act as inhibiting factors for investors.
Everyone seems to agree on the huge problem of bureaucracy. Even though steps have been made for the digitization of services, the problem remains vast. “Because, ultimately, when a citizen, either as a natural or legal person, tries to proceed with their transactions in person they waste productive time,” Apostolos Apostolakis concludes. So, for a company to want to come to Greece, Nikos Bonatsos stresses, the reduction of bureaucracy is a prerequisite. “There is a need to create something similar to a citizen service center (KEP) for anyone who wants to start a business and for everything to be in one website, in one place.”
The more one can improve the living conditions in the country the more attractive it is going to be as a ‘life and work destination’. The goal is to make the lives of the people they want to attract easier –something that has an added business interest for the Greek economy and for anyone who will try to find and offer solutions to the problems of relocation. Andreas Stavropoulos notes, also, the value of a “trial”. “One can suggest to a company: send 5 engineers that really want to spend 6 months in Greece to see how they will function there, as a trial. When one has experienced it, it’s more valuable.”
Apart from taxes and reducing bureaucracy, the corrective measures that need to be taken involve the time legal proceedings take; they need to stop being so time-consuming. Important changes that benefit local entrepreneurship is both the new Bankruptcy Code as well as the law about Corporate Governance that was voted last year, while justice reforms are also provided for in the plan for the Recovery Fund that the government submitted to Brussels.
At the same time, apart from good air connectivity with other hubs abroad, the digital connectivity of Greece is important, that is fast and reliable internet. The fact that the 5G network has already since the end of last year been activated in the country’s urban centers, and that the efforts to improve connectivity on the Greek islands and in more remote areas continue will soon bear fruit.
We must not forget however that in order to attract companies you need to convince the people, whose criteria are varied, but sometimes extremely obvious. What foreign businessperson is going to bring their family to a place where their children cannot attend a foreign language school? Who will come to Greece if the public schools are taken over by students, while the private schools require the larger part of their salary to pay for tuition? “The issue of the children’s education is an essential factor,” Marco Veremis claims. “An idea that had been suggested in the past was for Greek public schools in certain areas to also have English speaking classes. This is a wonderful idea. It sends the message that we’re ‘open for business.”
Finally, in the equation of returning or relocating, the existence of various options, career-wise, plays a crucial role. No one wants to bother relocating to be trapped in a job they cannot leave because there won’t be any similar jobs available. As Micheal Petychakis shrewdly mentions: “Many who are hesitant to return are afraid that there is a bad career progression in Greece. At the same time, networking is your strongest ally when you return.” To approach talent you have to be competitive, “to offer the excitement they are looking for as well as employee benefits. The company’s potential needs to be enticing enough.” Argyris Kaninis of Softomotive notes. “We are slowly improving in this part,” he adds. Another reason to be optimistic.