Remote Working: A Steadily Emerging Kootenay Workforce

Rural communities across British Columbia have been the happy beneficiaries of increasingly fast Internet service thanks to the networks of fibre optic cable that have been installed over the course of the past decade or so.

With such a foundation allowing for increasingly tech oriented industry, what were previously considered remote, regional, resource based economies are emerging into startup and innovation friendly cultures. As technology as an economic driver steadily evolves, it becomes increasingly appealing for workers in technology based enterprises to find work on a more flexible basis, independent of the usual 9-5 office-bound model.

Combination of advancements in tech and lifestyle make the Kootenays lifestyle immensely conducive to working remotely

The Kootenays, both East and West, is a great example of how the impact of the loss of resource based economic drivers and the advancements in technology throughout the region are transforming how people live and work. High speed fibre optics were introduced in the early aughts and, over the course of the past decade have been transforming what is possible for individuals and businesses alike.

Given the incredible recreation opportunities available throughout the Kootenays, it should come as no surprise that combined with exceptional Internet capabilities, it has become the perfect place to achieve work and life balance. The opportunities to work independent of the conventional office model, working remotely from your choice of scenic mountain community puts a finer point on that fact.

Local companies realize the benefits

As businesses throughout the region take advantage of the advancements available, while also enjoying peaceful living and more reasonable real estate prices than their urban counterparts, they also rely on a virtual office solution to keep costs low and still be able to hire exceptional talent.

Rossland’s Thoughtexchange is a great example. Founded in 2009, the company’s culture is the very picture of business in the 21st century. It values lifestyle, encourages flexible schedules and engages technology to make it happen effectively.

Explains Alex Chappel, responsible for HR and recruitment for the company, “With remote work also comes the advantage of flexible work hours and a self-determined work schedule, which people find attractive.”

Why Rossland for the headquarters? “Because the founders (Dave Macleod and Jim Firstbrook) are skiers.” said Alex. Of course. Back to that Kootenay life-work balance they were set to achieve. “In all seriousness Rossland made sense because we had enough staff living and working there to make an office space viable and useful,” she clarified.

It’s a dream for many, but is remote working all it’s cracked up to be?

The short answer is, “Of course!” The longer answer is, shall we say, a tad more nuanced.

As long-time remote workers, my husband and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In my case, I’ve applied for jobs holding fast to the conventional 9-5 model, and been struck with night terrors at the thought of handing over my schedule to a traditional 40 hour work week – one in which I’m required to be in the same place at the same time everyday. I feel a knot developing in my stomach as I write about it…

But it ain’t all roses. We work A LOT. Our kids would say ALL THE TIME. Boundaries are an issue.

The American economist Robert Reich has been addressing the issues facing remote workers a great deal throughout this election cycle.

“The so-called “share economy” includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents.”

“It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will be in such uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.”

While these are American references the downsides are pretty similar: “This trend shifts all economic risks onto workers. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.

It eliminates labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime.”

While this may be the American experience, it’s not so foreign to our own as Canadian shared economy workers. Independent contractors, entrepreneurs and freelancers have to constantly weigh the benefits against the costs.

To paint an accurate picture let’s take a look at the points to consider if you’re considering working from home, or the beach or your local ski lodge….

Potential downsides of remote working

  1. Little, or no, safety net. You have to be comfortable taking care of all of the little details such as getting sick or injured and not being able to work, your retirement, paying your taxes. Unless you’re set up with a sweet, salaried work at home gig that covers all of this – congratulations! – you’re out there on your own.
  2. Few, if any, paid benefits. Unless, again, you’re set up with as an employee that gets to work where you like, you will enjoy few benefits. Going on vacation? So long 3 weeks paid holiday time. Having a baby? Good bye paid leave. You get where I’m going with this….
  3. Boundaries. Let me say this again… BOUND-AR-IES. Or, more specifically, lack thereof. Working from home, with your office or work space being in the very next room, is tough to separate from. Add the constant that is your phone and the ability to retrieve, or send for that matter, emails first thing in the morning, while you’re eating supper or in the dead of night it’s up to you to set and enforce a distinction between your work time and the rest of your life. It’s often easier said than done, particularly if you deal in deadlines.

For those of us with the stomach to live out there on the edge… remote working has a ton going for it!

  1. There is nothing like the autonomy of your own schedule. Do you work better in the morning? Are your a night owl and are most productive when everyone else is asleep? Is your child home sick or does he have a dentist appointment? It snowed last night – first tracks!! The work has to get done… but you get to choose when it’s best for you to do it.
  2. Location, location, location. I like to work in front of a bank of windows in my dining room… I can see the birdies and squirrels, my kids on the trampoline and my lovely park-like yard. We also like to spend time in Mexico every autumn. I have a kid who will be ski racing with a team a couple of hours away from home and we’ll need to spend a fair bit of time there. The beauty is, I get to choose where I work. All I require is a good Internet connection.
  3. There is no dress requirement. I wear what I want. I get dressed, I don’t get dressed. I could be naked right now….

Working remotely isn’t for everyone, for sure. But for those of us that want to, and can, these past several years of advancing technology have made the experience all that much better here in the Kootenays. Between the increasing opportunities available, the remote work spaces popping up in a variety of communities and the availability of world class recreation outside our front doors, it’s a lifestyle that becomes more and more viable with each passing year.

It’s all possible, but it’s up to you to ensure you find the balance.