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If That’s Movin’ Up Than I’m Movin’ Out

Apologies for the Unexpected Billy Joel up there. But that line from what is now a very old song is awfully apropos. We are all starting to realize that the changes wrought by COVID-19 will be with us for some time to come, even as society only begins to stagger out of the bedroom, yawning and looking for a coffee.

And who wouldn’t want to look for a new address right now? Aside from the desire to flee the stuck-at-home stank that has inevitably been gathering thanks to everyone living and working within the same four walls over the past couple of months, people are assessing their living arrangements and wondering if they are missing out. Is there something better out there?

COVID-19 itself has exposed the problems with living in densely packed cities. This pandemic and the health concerns that go along with it have changed society. The need for social distancing has made cramming into a train or bus, squeezing into an SUV with commuting coworkers, and sitting in an office building filled with a few thousand fellow drones look a whole lot different in May than it did as recently as early March. What was once seen as mere inconvenience–even of a soul-draining kind, which is why remote working was already on the rise even long before anyone could find Wuhan on a map–is now seen as scary, and even potentially life-threatening.

This sort of thing has happened before. One of the hallmarks of pandemics, from the Great Plague of London to the cholera waves of the 19th century, has been the way that they forced people from city to country. (Book tip time! If not completely fed up with all things virus yet, check out The Diary of Samuel Pepys and A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.) When people started dropping dead in city streets, anyone who could afford it suddenly had the urge to check out what rural life had to offer. Coronavirus death rates are not even close to plagues of the past, of course, but the health risk is certainly still there, especially for the elderly and those with a range of preexisting conditions. So the motivation remains, even if the urgency is significantly reduced.

In short, the Great Remote Worker Experiment of 2020 has made a whole lot of people realize that they do not have to be tied to big city living now that their jobs have gone mobile. When your career is no longer locked to a bricks-and-mortar office, you are no longer locked to a tiny city apartment, or even a condo, or even a super-pricey home and swatch of green space stranded in the middle of a concrete sea. You can greatly change your quality of life and your overall work-life balance. All it takes is looking a little farther afield.

After these sorts of pandemics and various economic shocks in the past, cities generally rebounded. As the diseases receded and/or the economy roared back, people returned to the biggest urban areas for jobs. Life resumed, more or less as normal. I’m not so sure that will be the case this time. The social changes forced by COVID-19 have revealed that we can migrate jobs to home offices. There is no putting the lid back on that bottle. The genie is out. Workers now see the benefits of working from home. Companies now see that there are real advantages to having a spread-out workforce, in terms of costs, talent pool, and employee job satisfaction and productivity.

Sonny, move out to the country! Nothing has been easy about COVID-19, least of all the way that it has pushed the lyrics of ancient Billy Joel songs back into my frontal lobe. But the virus has had one positive effect when it comes to remote working, as it has forced millions of people to take stock of their lives and look for a better way. And–sales pitch alert!–we can help with that here in the St. Lawrence Region. Contact us at SLX to find out how we can ease your transition from big city to greener pastures along one of the world’s great waterways.

Cheers!

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