The Covid-19 pandemic has made us rethink our living spaces. Lockdown has left us longing for access to a leafy country road, a beach or a house nested in an atmospheric forest. Those lucky enough to have moved to the countryside before lockdown came into place, were posting all over social media pictures of strolls along beautiful sceneries, while the urban habitants were struggling to find places to walk without feeling they were in a sequel of the post-apocalyptic horror drama ‘28 days later’. We need a breath of fresh air during lockdown.
When this new lifestyle involved working from home, the challenge extended not only to having the opportunity to take a fresh breath of air outdoors but also to experiencing satisfaction by having effective functioning both at work and family. Whether workers were staying single or with family, they had to get involved in some household chores and coordinating between demands from each of their roles which in most of the cases became a daunting task.
People are starting to question their living conditions and wondering if there is a better lifestyle within their reach. The latest National Remote Working Employee Survey in Ireland has found 94% of workers would like to work remotely some or all the time when the Covid-19 crisis ends. There is a realisation that it is possible to work remotely, hold meetings on Zoom and have time to raise their families or to simply discover themselves.
Almost half of all work in Ireland has been done from home since the start of the pandemic, one of the highest rates in the EU. That has prompted the government to push forward initiatives to deliver high speed broadband services to all premises in Ireland.
The National Broadband Plan is one of them and is looking to provide with free high-speed internet access to communities all over rural Ireland including islands off the coast of Donegal, Kerry, Mayo, Galway, and Cork.
In many rural locations business groups are also getting together to organise ‘hot desking’ facilities for those wanting the comfort of an office environment with top quality connectivity, but within a few minutes’ drive of home. Some of them have been operating for quite some time with great success.
All that remote working infrastructure such as broadband and remote working hubs are allowing both individuals and communities to minimise the challenges and to make the most of this fundamental shift in the way we work.
Work-life balance. Breath of fresh air during lockdown
Being able to separate work from home life, the thinking time that the commute creates, the possibility of bouncing ideas off colleagues and the social interaction, are some of the perks we might yearn after months of working from home, but we can’t deny there has been a cultural shift in relation to work-life balance and many apartment dwellers and homeowners living in crowded suburbs have realised there just had to be more to life.
In Ireland, the issue of work-life balance is becoming increasingly important not only due to the pandemic but also because the Irish workforce has been changing. Multinational companies with international staff working remotely puts forward the need for employers to introduce policies with schemes that allow work with enough time to be spent with the family.
Working from home in some way can also bring its own challenges but for many take away long commuting and that means more time to do all those things that makes life worthwhile. Playing with the kids, bringing them to sports events, baking with them or simply going for a walk nearby.
Having more time outside work hours allows people to enjoy their living spaces and their surroundings. Never before it has been so important to have the perfect space in the right location. There is nothing better than knowing you can spend an afternoon just sitting by a lake, on a beach, or a hillside, reading your favourite author.
All over the world, estate agents and auctioneers have been reporting a significant increase in interest in buying or renting properties in the countryside. Ireland is not the exception. The website MyHome.ie, which is owned by The Irish Times, has reported an increase in about 9,000 per cent on searches for houses in countryside locations in west Cork. Breath of fresh air during lockdown is needed.
Irish trends show a definite shift in house buyers with an evident surge of queries for Kerry, Galway, and villages outside of the traditional commuter belt counties. The interest on those properties has come not only from people from Irish urban settlements but also from abroad.
Ireland has one of the highest proportions of people living in rural areas among EU states, a new Eurostat survey shows. This is not a coincidence. Rural Ireland has more to offer than sheep and cows eating in light green grass. It is full of scenic locations and welcoming locals. Rural Ireland has learnt to love its growing multiculturalism.
Cleaner air, less populated towns and villages and an overall sense of calm and well-being could be just enough to make people feel that are making the right move towards improving their lifestyle.
By Mónica Navarro, Ireland senior counsel, Colombian abogada at Del Canto Chambers