Is Remote Work the Answer to the Family Holiday Question?

After a few festive beverages, hugs and kisses, it’s only a matter of time before someone asks, when are you moving back home?

Yay! Snow at Grammie Maine’s House

This past Christmas my wife (Jennifer C Clarkson), our 3 year old daughter and I, packed up the suitcases and headed to the Atlanta airport in route to visit Grammie Maine. If you hadn’t guessed it, our daughter named her grandmother who lives in Maine, Grammie Maine. Of course the biggest questions for our little one were, how is Santa going to know where to leave her presents and will there be snow so she can make snow angels and bring Frosty the Snowman to life? This year she was pleasantly surprised to learn that Santa found her 1,156 miles from her house and there were piles of fluffy white stuff for snow angels and Frosty the Snowman.

For her Maine native parents though, it is only a matter of time before their family and friends ask the question.

The coast of Maine is beautiful. From June — September that is :)

The Attraction to Small Town Life

While we are blessed to have a grandmother, aunt and older brother with us in the south, most of our family lives in the northeast and this includes three grandparents, all three uncles, aunt and at least 20 cousins. After a few festive beverages, laughter, hugs and kisses, we become intoxicated by family love. Thoughts of being together all the time start to bubble up. It’s not long before we are asked:

“Do you think you will ever move back home?”

Ten years ago when we first moved to Atlanta the answer to that question was quick and easy. “No, not right now. We love the weather, food, culture and being so close to the city.” Well now that we have the little one and our family is aging, the answer to that question has become more complex. Every holiday season to help prepare for our visit back home, my wife and I talk about some of our reasons to move back home to small town life.

  • Family. As I already mentioned a ton of our family lives in the northeast. Growing up most of my family was from NYC and Atlanta, so I didn’t get the chance to grow up around my cousins like my wife did. I would like for my daughter to have the same experience as her mother.
  • Safety. In 2015 Maine had the 2nd lowest number of crimes committed and has traditionally been rated one of the safest places to live in the U.S. What better place for a crazy father who wants to keep all the boys away from his daughter?
  • Quality of Life. Not only is Maine safe but the quality of life has been recognized in the top 5 places to live in the U.S.
  • Education. For 2016 Maine was rated #8 in the country for best school systems and Georgia was rated 35th. Of course there are good schools in Georgia but as a whole Maine is the better choice.

Difficulties of Small Town Life

So why don’t we pack up our condo in Atlanta and move back to Maine? Well after the nostalgia of being around family wears off, the reality of life set in. We started looking at reasons why NOT to move back to small town life.

  • Lack of Diversity. Growing up in Bangor, Maine most of the time I was the only black kid in the room and if my two friends were out sick, I was the only black person in the whole school including the staff. Luckily there was an old air-force base that attracted some families so we actually had a small black community. But make no mistake about it, Maine is the least diverse state in the country, with 95% of the population identified themselves as white in the most recent census reports. In contrast, our daughter’s current class there are at least 6 different ethnic groups represented and out of the 20 total kids, maybe 7 are white. Being a bi-racial child I want my daughter to have personal experiences with as many different cultures as possible.
  • Lack of Access. When you live in one of the top 10 cities in the U.S. it’s not necessarily the big buildings or the fancy cars that you are attracted to but it’s the access. Access to concerts, theaters, pro sports, meet-ups, business networking events and arguably some of the best restaurants in the U.S. While small markets like Maine try their best, there just are not enough people to support all of the different types of access that we have grown accustomed to.
  • Weather. Many people from cold climates think its the warmth that gets us flocking birds addicted. Well let me tell you a secret, it’s the sun! I never knew how much I loved being in the sunshine until we moved from New England ten years ago. The average number hours of sunshine in a year in Georgia is 2,986 vs Maine at 2,513. That is a difference of 473 hours or 39 days. Yep 39 more days of Vitamin D, puts a smile on your face and gives you that extra pep in your step; its science man, really.

At this point you might be wondering, these things are not that bad and if your daughter is going to be safe and grow up around her family why are you still in Atlanta? Well we forgot the biggest question of them all.

Where are we going to work?

Where are we going to work? For my wife and I, this is the question that usually ends our discussion of moving back to small town life in Maine. Small town workforces were mostly dependent on manufacturing jobs. Many of the plants, factories or mills that housed a few management level jobs have closed down, reducing both blue and white collar jobs. Don’t get me wrong Portland, Maine and other small towns across the country have some of the best medium to large sized corporations with all of the bells and whistles as in the Big Apple. But to many local “Mainahs” and transplants these are dream jobs and the demand far outweighs the supply.

This past holiday one of my brother-in-law’s friends, was up from Boston visiting his family. As most of our family had done to us, after a few libations I actually asked him the question, “do you think you will ever move back home?” Prior to responding he took a breath as if he had been asked this question before and with a look of disappointment said, “ I tried to move back to Portland (Maine) but I couldn’t find a job after a month of looking. So I applied to jobs in Boston and after a couple of weeks I got an offer that I couldn’t pass up.” Wow, how sad is that? A young talented professional wanted to move back to his home state but due to the lack of companies who are offering white collar jobs, he was forced to head back to the big city.

Look Everyone. We Are Happy

Remote Work: The Answer to Small Town Life

What if I could live in Maine and work for a company in Los Angeles? What if I could schedule all of my meetings on Skype? What if there was this magic machine that I could type my messages in, attach a file and send it with a click of a button? Well guess what Mr. Clarkson, all of this technology exists and when you use it for work it’s called Telework (or to some, Remote Work). According to Global-workforce Analytics 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time, so people are now opting for work location independence.

Remote work as Economic Development for Small Towns
For small town life, telework has also been used as a catalyst for economic development. In the state of Montana, local government developed a campaign titled “Come home to Montana and bring your job with you,” which embraces the concept of moving to Montana while working at your current job remotely. In the article “No Jobs are Coming: How Remote Work Can Save Small Towns,” by Fred Perrotta, he states that many of the manufacturing jobs in his hometown of New Castle, Pennsylvania have replaced humans with computers and robots. But he believes remote work can save some of these small towns by shifting their workforce towards service jobs, which can be performed remotely and are in higher demand.

“These remote roles are service jobs. The same type of service jobs that account for 80% of jobs in the US. Despite the time spent talking about manufacturing during election season, only 8% of US jobs are in manufacturing.”
~Fred Perrotta

Looking back at my friend, I bet there are plenty more natives who would love to move back home but can’t find a job in their field or they enjoy working for their current employer and don’t want to quit. Like the state of Montana, I too, believe that with the advancements in technology, many of us can perform our jobs from home or a remote co-working space. So why can’t I just keep my big city job and move back home? The short answer, employer trust and the lack of procedures to build that trust. Remote work as an economic development tool for small towns won’t happen until companies fully understand the ROI of both life-integration and becoming a location independent workplace. That is why we created Blend me, Inc. We want to help companies provide telework opportunities for their employees.

So, if you are thinking about moving back to small time life, next holiday season when someone from your hometown asks you “do you think you will ever move back home?”

Tell them yes, and remote work is the answer!


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