by Julius WiedemannMar 02, 2021
As the idea of remote work changes, so does the idea of escaping. About three years ago remote work meant that one could work from hotel rooms and flights across the globe. That included internet connection and a lot of domestic flights, and some international too. Remote work became completely different in the pandemic, meaning that one could work from where one was isolating and could not leave. The pandemic accelerated the digitisation of working processes, but also the idea of where one can live. With schools turning to digital tools to teach students of all ages, suddenly, online education, which was very debatable, became a reality, an obligation, and the salvation for families that want it to escape from large cities.
The connection between parents' work and children’s schools is part of our mainstream societal establishment. We haven’t questioned that for too many decades. Parents leave for offices every morning, and kids go to schools. Kindergartens are there to support parents with younger kids. This model, which seemed untouchable, has now been forced to adapt to a new reality. Locked in apartments with limited space for a few months, a lot of families decided to move to the countryside. With work and schools running from laptops and headphones, many felt compelled to seek places with more space for the hours in between. Suddenly, an escape didn’t mean a two-week holiday once a year, or a retreat, but a door that could open to a garden where one could work and study anytime of the day, have more sunlight, more space to walk, and combine isolation with pleasure.
I am certainly talking about a certain economic group that can afford a type of mobility geographically, but is also intellectually able to re-organise a lifestyle in the middle of a crisis. In September 2020, The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported: “In June and July (of 2020), the number of buyer inquiries made to Rightmove, the UK’s largest online property website, from people living in 10 cities increased by 78 per cent compared with the same period last year. And there was a 126 per cent increase in people considering properties in village locations, compared with a 68 per cent rise in people searching for towns". It says a lot about the exodus that First World countries are experiencing.
But this is not exclusive to countries where infrastructure allows for more movement and a guarantee of certain products and services. In Brazil, a similar movement is happening. The port city of Porto Seguro has a little enclave called Trancoso, which concentrates some of the biggest fortunes in Brazil, which is now housing entire families that have moved to the place after giving up on big cities. Somehow, the focus has shifted somehow from St. Tropez or Hamptons of São Paulo to this becoming the permanent residence of many families that see the possibility of studying and working closer to nature. The World Economic Forum has reported that now 48 per cent of American adults would like to swap their residences to the countryside, a percentage that used to be 39 per cent just a couple of years ago in 2018. The number of examples is endless.
The World Economic Forum also reports that “While countries are at different points in their COVID-19 infection rates, worldwide there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic. In South Korea students are responding to roll calls from their teachers online". Robust numbers indicate that online education is here to stay. Investments in Edtech in 2019 amounted to over $18.5 billion. The number of apps, tutoring websites, video conferencing platforms and others have soured. And online platforms see no boundaries. Today, the most valued Edtech company in the world is based in Bengaluru, India. Founded in 2011, this educational powerhouse has seen a 200 per cent increase in students on its app BYJU’S.
But escape has also to do with leisure. That combined with a perspective of much lower numbers in corporate traveling will certainly create a new environment for a new type of workspace, which will definitely be combined with more freedom of time and location. Holidays might become an experience of living somewhere for a couple of months instead of a couple of weeks. Hotel rooms might have to be redesigned to have a little office space. Internet infrastructure, which was already a must, will have to be upgraded so that connections run faster to allow for great video conferencing experience.
I do video conferences with four countries at least on a daily basis. About a year ago you would start a conversation asking where people were, trying to start a conversation about isolation and safety. My daughter was born two months before Brazil went into lockdown. As I work for Domestika, a foreign company, which is now fast expanding around the world, I had to do multiple calls every day. I did endless calls with Julia in my arms, and my colleagues were superb in understanding the situation. My wife, of course, did the same. We were always taking turns to make sure that we were both safe and productive at the same time.
My conclusion is simply that we are escaping from an old form of living. Quality time with our families and friends will be allowed in a completely different fashion. We can’t wait to retire to enjoy life anymore, the same way we can’t wait to enjoy life today. I truly believe that it will be down to companies and institutions to understand that living and working are about to shift to a new type of balance. And they will have to adapt.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.