I’m a software developer living and working in Dublin, Ireland. Except I’m not.
For the past three months I’ve been living on the Canarian island of Lanzarote, 100 kilometres off the North African coast. My job is the same as it always was: writing code, building new features into the company’s SaaS app, going to meetings, writing documentation — all the usual dev tasks that you’ll encounter at any startup anywhere.
Three months ago, as the world was tumbling into its Covid nightmare, myself and my girlfriend took a long weekend break in the sun. A couple of days after arriving the Spanish government initiated one of the strictest lockdowns in the world and we had a choice to make: stay on this sunny island as all the tourists fled home, or return to a cold and wet Dublin where the virus was taking hold in earnest.
We chose to stay. And we didn’t tell anyone.
There were only a handful of cases on the island. Villas up and down the coast were empty. The supermarkets that fed hundreds of thousands of tourists and residents were spacious and well stocked.
We abandoned our holiday hotel and spent a day finding a spacious three bed villa by the sea. The WiFi was fast enough to handle Teams and Zoom calls and the swimming pool out front was cool and inviting.
My office in Ireland had gone remote the previous week and I’d lugged the company lap top along with me. I was good to go. My girlfriend was in a similar boat. With face-to-face meetings cancelled, her working day is spent on the phone or in online meetings.
It hasn’t all been rosy. The eight week lockdown before things began to open was rough. The community spirit was absent as we had no Irish TV to tune into each night and neighbours were few and far between. Most of the surrounding villas were empty, and the once bustling promenade was void of people.
But the negatives were far fewer than they would have been in Dublin. The sun was shining every day. We weren’t locked down in a small apartment six floors up. The supermarkets were quiet and the sea breeze kept us cool each afternoon as we took a break from work and lay out by the pool. We had little fear of contracting the virus.
Once the lockdown began to lift, a small number of cafés and restaurants started to open their outdoor terraces and life began to get back to a kind of normal. Despite most of the tourist businesses in town being closed, enough local eateries were open with outdoor areas that we could have a coffee or a beer on the promenade each day.
This experience has been eye opening for us.
We’re both paying rent on two expensive apartments in Dublin — recently identified as the most expensive city to rent in in Europe. We’re both used to getting stuck in traffic each day as we travel to and from work or meetings. Winter flu season in Ireland is a nightmare of office sickness that has ruined many a Christmas and New Year holiday for us.
Why do we do this to ourselves each year?
Why spend a fortune renting in Dublin when we could live a less stressful and far more affordable life in a sunnier climate? Why put up with all that sickness each Winter when we could spend those dangerous months walking by the sea and eating in outdoor restaurants, where the possibility of infection is so much less? Why put up with Dublin traffic when we can do our work just as well from a sunny island?
We get so used to the lives we live day to day and year to year in Ireland that we assume it’s the only life we could live. If there’s one thing that this crisis has demonstrated, it’s that for many workers location is not important. Face-to-face meetings are not as crucial as we once assumed. Bums on seats is an outdated policy that has no place in a modern company.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the long term changes that the Covid outbreak could bring to working and living. That workers could soon be abandoning expensive cities like Dublin in favour of more affordable towns across the country where the quality of life would be better and the costs so much less.
No long commutes. Kids who see their parents at normal hours of the day. Spacious houses instead of cramped apartments. It all sounds so appealing.
But if you’re of a more adventurous nature, why stop at abandoning the city for a town an hour or two’s drive away? Why not look to more distant locations such as the Canary islands, southern Spain or France, or even more exotic locations in the far east?
Working from home has always been common for tech workers like me, but the Covid crisis has accelerated its uptake and pushed it mainstream. What might have taken ten or twenty years to spread has now done so in the space of a couple of months.
Once you do the work, why should your employer care where you park your lap top? A desk at the end of the office, your home in South Dublin, a small village on the west coast of Ireland, or a far off villa on a Spanish island.
The work is still the work, and the Teams meetings are still Teams meetings.