You’ve finally broken free of the 9 to 5. No more office, suit or rush hours. Remote work means you now have choices. Is it time to change not just how we work, but where and how we want to live?
Who could have guessed that the dark days of lockdown would grant us the freedom to work on our terms? Discovering employees can work from home without a drop in productivity, each day more and more companies announce that remote working is how we’ll do things in the future.
Are cities losing their appeal?
COVID pushed us to re-evaluate our lives. It also changed the way we view our surroundings, perhaps, forever.
Pre-COVID, (2018) the UN projected that 68% of the world’s population would live in urban areas by 2050. In 2015, over a billion people migrated and migrants usually head for global cities, like London. However, now that highly skilled jobs can be done wherever there is internet, it’s no longer necessary to seek your fortune in the city.
Life through the lens of the pandemic
According to the London Assembly Housing Committee, one in seven Londoners (14 per cent) want to leave the city as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This change in attitude towards big city life is echoed globally. During COVID, the toll on physical and mental health has been amplified in cities. Transmission rates have been much higher in cities which seem to encourage viruses to spread. Staying safe and sane in close quarters has also been difficult, leaving residents craving places to escape the crowds.
Shut inside, without the distraction of their usual entertainments, many city dwellers have begun to feel that the grass may be greener elsewhere.
Those whose work allows them to live anywhere have started to question the wisdom of staying where rents and house prices are drastically over-inflated. London’s rents are the highest in Europe, with other UK cities also ranking in this list. Nearly two in five British people say they can’t afford to buy a home in the city they grew up in.
Added to resident’s frustrations is time wasted in city traffic and the resulting poor quality of air; according to a report by Centre for Cities UK urban air pollution causes 40,000 deaths a year.
Is it time to make an ‘e-change’?
After years of migration moving mostly in one direction, rural living can certainly offer us space.
In Europe, over 70% live in urban whereas only 28% live in rural regions. However, in many of these countries the disparity is even greater; in Spain 90% of the population lives in just 12% of the territory. Depopulation is such a problem in some areas of rural Europe that local governments have offered new residents the chance to buy houses for 1 euro.
Although bargains of these proportions are rare, remote workers who have already made the move to rural areas cite the affordability of housing as one of the main incentives.
Greg, a software developer who moved from Dublin to a remote part of Southern Ireland said, ‘I have a 3-bedroom house with land here for two-thirds of what I was paying for a one bedroom flat in the capital.’ Ease of access to outdoor activities is also key, ‘Living here means I can spend more time walking and cycling in the stunning Irish countryside.’
Jane, who moved from Manchester to rural Spain, tells a similar story, ‘Remote working has made it possible for us to move to a beautiful place where we can afford to buy a house for the first time. Being surrounded by nature has already had an effect on my daughter… in the city entertainment and activities had to be paid for whereas here she is happy going for picnics, walks or to the beach. It’s easier to make the most of your free time. One of the unexpected benefits has been how everyone says ‘hello’ to you in the street – we didn’t realise how invisible city living makes you until we moved.’
The slower pace of life in the countryside, opportunities to keep pets and easy access to outdoor hobbies are proven to lower stress levels, improving overall health.
Before you pack your bags…
Lack of suitable employment is not the only factor which has caused people to leave their rural homes in the past.
Country dwellers all over Europe complain of the lack of priority given by governments to improving rural services such as public transport systems and health centres. Essential businesses like shops, banks and post offices have disappeared from many UK rural villages in recent years making car journeys essential.
Former city types may also miss the convenience of modern housing. Old property is more common in rural areas and generally requires more maintenance. Also, trades people like plumbers and electricians are harder to come by in the countryside.
On a less practical note, an important detail to be considered before moving to the country is whether nightlife is important to you. Options for evening socialising in rural areas are often very minimal. It’s best to find out in advance what alternative activities you can get involved in to help you make friends and settle into the community.
Could you be part of the solution?
In the short term, those moving to the country from the city will have to sacrifice some conveniences. However, if the ‘e-change’ trend continues, (remote workers moving to rural areas) this could help to reinvigorate the economies of these regions. If population in rural areas increases, so will demand for goods and services, which in turn increases the likelihood of businesses opening to take advantage of new customers.
An increase in people moving from urban to rural areas could also alleviate some of the environmental problems associated with an increasing urban population. According to National Geographic Magazine, these include dangerous levels of city air pollution, high energy consumption and a higher risk of urban environmental catastrophes such as flooding due to increased property development.
Why countries are increasingly open to receiving remote workers
A growing number of countries, realising the role remote workers could play in reinvigorating the economies of their rural regions, have started to offer special visas to encourage remote workers to stay or settle there. Whatever the label, ‘digital nomad’, ‘e-changer’ or ‘remote work tourist’ countries see how attracting this type of temporary resident could make up for some of the economic damage caused by lack of tourism during the pandemic. Remote workers also have the benefit of working for companies outside their country and therefore aren’t competing against natives for jobs.
Where could remote work take you?
The term ‘digital nomad’ has been around for quite some time. For most people, it brings to mind images of young people smiling on exotic looking beaches with a Macbook on their lap. In the early days, earning money through the internet was often through fluctuating income streams such as freelancing sites. The digital nomad’s location was also similarly transitory. However, this image has begun to change. As more and more people are earning stable incomes from permanent remote positions, more opportunities to stay long-term or even settle permanently in other countries are cropping up.
Warning: these examples may bring out your inner digital nomad!
Mauritius, an island of East Africa, recently announced their new ‘Premium Travel Visa’ which allows visitors to stay and work remotely for one year. Antigua and Barbuda also now have a Nomad Digital Residence program which allows remote workers to stay for up to two years. These islands feel that welcoming remote workers will help revive their rural and coastal economies in the wake of the absence of tourism.
Greece recently announced that they are creating a new Digital Nomad Visa along with the slogan, ‘If you can work from anywhere, why not Greece?” This visa offers remote workers a massive 50% reduction in tax for the first 7 years. The huge savings combined with Greece’s renowned beauty could make a prolonged stay irresistible.
Estonia claims to have been the first country in Europe to launch a Digital Nomad Visa which allows online workers the chance to live and work in the Northern European country for a year.
Is the shift from urban to rural just a passing phase?
The experience of life during the COVID pandemic has certainly been a major factor in changing our perspectives on city versus country living.
Those living in cities under restrictions are experiencing these places as never before. A major factor of what attracts us to city life has been temporarily taken away; the option to immerse yourself in a wide variety of social activities. Without this, cities just don’t have a lot to give.
Some city dwellers will have realised they haven’t missed the restaurants and bars, the shopping, cinemas and theatres. However, before considering a move to rural areas it’s worth considering what city life was like pre-COVID. This will help you make a more long-lasting decision on where you really want to be.
Caroline James is a freelance writer and editor of Immigration News. She writes on a variety of topics with a particular interest in travel, migrancy, remote working and digital marketing. She currently lives in southern Spain.