Bridgewater, N.S. — On a typical weekday I slip out of bed, walk downstairs to our large kitchen, fire up the kettle to make a fresh mug of coffee, eat a quick breakfast and then walk back up the same stairs to my office; one of four bedrooms in our almost 100-year-old Nova Scotia home.
I start responding to urgent messages and emails immediately before turning to the day's tasks. Absent from this daily rhythm is the rush to put on business-casual clothes, the whine of the car as it starts in the cold morning air, the busy commute to a corporate office and the hasty dash to a desk. I'm a remote worker, so showing up at work is as fast and easy as signing into my company's Slack channel.
I hold down a job as a content writer for a software company that's in Australia — a place that I've never even been to! From here, I can command a city wage for a specialized job in the knowledge economy while still reaping the low-cost rewards of small-town life.
I've been working remotely for almost four years now. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that I've become addicted to living this way. I don't know if I'll ever be able to go back to the trappings of a traditional office with a dress code, strained attempts at creating an "office culture," long afternoons under fluorescent lights, and days bookended by weary trips to and from work. For me, there is nothing like the solitary joy of plucking away at a keyboard in a quiet house as the workday slips by.
Just three months ago, my wife and I moved to the small town of Bridgewater, N.S., from our native Prince Edward Island. The move came after much consideration about the kind of place we wanted to live in for the foreseeable future.
We were looking for a place with a sweeping landscape, affordable real estate and convenient amenities. While Charlottetown does have many of those things, Bridgewater ticked all of the boxes and allowed us to set out somewhere new without breaking the bank. We're Maritimers through and through, and we didn't really want to leave the region.
Still, because I'm a remote worker and my wife is a nurse, we felt that we should be doing something with our upward mobility. We wanted to make the most of the flexibility that remote work brings. Even more than that, we wanted to find a peaceful place to raise a family. With our first little one on the way, this was at the forefront of our minds.
We knew that we didn't want to move to a big city. Being born and raised in Atlantic Canada, we're just not big-city people. Even nearby Halifax feels a little too metropolitan for our tastes. But conventional wisdom says that you can only avail yourself of the best career if you bite the bullet and set out for the bright lights of a densely populated urban mass.
It's true — it would be impossible to find a content-writing job like the one I currently have in a market this small. If I were to move somewhere expressly for the purpose of doing work like this, it would have to be far away from here. Many people I know have had to make that choice, and I won't knock them for it.
But while workers once had to choose between the charm of a small town and the luxury of a rewarding career, the blazing fast internet that's available today and the maturation of cloud-based tools turn the idea on its head. I think a lot of people still have their minds in yesteryear, where staying in or moving to a small town meant career suicide or — at best — a career plateau. That couldn't be farther from the truth today. Sure, not everyone can work remotely, but a lot more people could be.
Rural centres could truly benefit from this kind of migration.
I believe that the real value of East Coast towns like Bridgewater remains largely unrealized. While Bridgewater is less known by visitors than historic towns like Mahone Bay and Lunenburg, it is a hub for residents of Lunenburg County. It also happens to be the fastest-growing town in Nova Scotia and recently became a finalist for the federal government's Smart Cities Challenge.
The real value lies in the potential of towns like this — of which there are many in the Maritimes — to be a haven for remote workers with their combination of fast internet, affordable housing, great amenities and scenic surroundings. Just imagine entire towns buzzing with all kinds of interesting professionals who work from home and bring their earnings into the local economy. Rural centres could truly benefit from this kind of migration.
I may be working remotely, but I'm living in a real community where things are happening and I can enjoy what the place has to offer. From our house, I can walk to such delightful places as Weagles Bakery, Fancy Pants Cafe and Jac's Diner in just minutes. In the evening, my wife and I often walk to the river and enjoy the view of the water from Pijinuiskaq Park. The newly constructed Lunenburg County Lifestyle Center is a familiar stop already with its large swimming pool and cozy public library.
Just a few short years ago, I would have thought that I would be forced to choose between a good job and the laid-back lure of Maritime life. For me, remote work has shattered that dichotomy entirely. I can only hope that more people will start to see how much a remote work opportunity can change the way that you see a small town.
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As I write this, there is dried paint on my fingers from our most recent project — a new nursery. I revel at the thought that under this old roof I'll have both a career and — very soon — a child. From this vantage point, I'll continue my remote working journey as a grateful recipient of the technology that enables such things.
When the summer comes and I'm ready to cash in on my vacation days, you can be sure that my wife and I will be driving up and down Nova Scotia's rugged coastline with our newborn baby in tow, discovering more of the beaches and natural wonders in our own backyard. That's the true beauty of remote work — you can work in a place where you want to live instead of living in a place where you need to work. At least, that's what I'm here to prove. Thus far, I'd like to think I've made a solid case.
Hometown is an ongoing blog series and conversation led by people who know there's more to Canada beyond city limits. If you live or have lived in a small or rural community, and have a perspective or opinion you would like to share, take a look at our Blogger FAQ to see how to get started and reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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