Rural Living December 01, 2021
Work From Anywhere
Remote working lets family live where they want to.
Drinking coffee on the front porch while birds are singing in the forest. It’s the start of another new day at the office for Andrew Douglas. Technology has let him and his wife Anne, pack up their careers, and like millions of other Canadians and Americans, leave their corporate cubicles behind them. They’re free to live and work from wherever they want to.
There’s nothing new about teleworking from home; millions of workers have done it for years. But the pandemic gave it a huge boost. Companies sent their employees home to work remotely at the start of the pandemic and nearly two years later most aren’t back. StatsCanada reported that 4% of Canadians worked most of their hours from home in 2016 but 32% were at home at the start of 2021.
The freedom to work from anywhere has caused workers to do some serious soul searching. After all, since there is no advantage to living close to the office, where would you choose to live?
Peter Kohlmann and Laura Buckley had lived in Markham, Ontario (a Toronto suburb) since the early 2000s but had never felt a strong connection to the community. They’d chosen it for its good schools for their children and the proximity to Peter’s work at IBM and Laura’s work as a chef. So when their children moved out, they wanted to make changes in their lives. They fell in love with a waterfront property a real estate agent showed them on Wolfe Island at the eastern edge of Lake Ontario.
“At the time I was probably working from home three or four days a week with other team members located around the world,” Kohlmann says. “Still, my employer was adamant that I had an office job and had to be accessible to the office. But we kept thinking about it. Eventually we decided we’re not happy here and want to move there. We’ll find a way to make it work.”
Andrew and Anne Douglas weren’t content with life in Guelph, Ontario either. They wanted a change.
“I was starting to see my path through life as a long, straight Saskatchewan-style-road,” Andrew says. “I could look at our friends and neighbors in different age ranges and see exactly what every step of my life would look like all the way to my gravestone. But I wanted a more adventuresome life.”
The couple fell in love with Central Frontenac County in Eastern Ontario while managing a Christian summer camp and decided to buy in the area. Eventually they found a spot within their budget, 27 acres of mixed bush, pasture and a half-finished house shell. Nothing was finished inside so they designed it to fit their needs. They joke it’s so remote that the nearest Tim Hortons (Canada’s ubiquitous donut chain) is a 45-minute drive away.
While they loved the area there were no jobs within easy commuting range that matched Andrew’s skills. Undeterred, he founded his own company, StoryDigital.ca, a communications company that provides content creation, web marketing and social media management services to corporate clients across Canada.
“Living surrounded by trees and nature is just so conducive to your mental health,” Anne says. “We have a beautiful life.”
It comes with serious drawbacks; the biggest adjustment is to the inconvenience of country or cottage life. The closest grocery stores and restaurants can be a long way away. If you’ve forgotten to buy something, you make do. Getting repairmen in isn’t always easy either, you need to be self-reliant and learn how to do everything from fix a water pump to operate a chainsaw.
Nothing determines if a location is suitable for remote workers more than high speed internet. You can’t telecommute without it.
“Absolutely the first thing you should do when you are checking out a place is take your cellphone and run an Internet Speedtest,” Douglas says. “I don’t think it is possible to have a remote working career in a place without decent internet speeds.”
“It’s more than a little bit ironic that it’s our high-tech world that makes living out here possible, Kohlmann says. “We had to step forward to step back.”
“Working from the country is better suited for people in either mid or late career,” Andrew Douglas says. “If you were early in your career, it would be hard to be out of the office unless you were very entrepreneurial and are prepared to really hustle to stay in front of your boss. It would be too easy to be out of sight, out of mind. You’re going to constantly have to email and call people to remind them you exist.”
There’s no consensus on whether corporations will continue to accept telecommuting after the pandemic runs its course. Surveys show most companies expect some jobs to remain remote while others will need to come into the office a few days a week.
“If you plan to move to beyond easy commuting range my biggest piece of advice would be to be 100% sure your employer is okay with it,” Kohlmann says. “Be aware there are no guarantees they won’t change their minds and want you back in the office in the future. If you want to make this move anyway, you have to be prepared to find other employment someday or it won’t be the right move for you.” ‡
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