In 2018, research by Morgan Stanley predicted that, by 2027, remote working would be a way of life for more than half the American workforce. The investment bank wasn’t alone in its forecasts—experts have long predicted such a shift in workplace dynamics, but none could have foreseen the social distancing measures that have accelerated the move into home offices around the globe. “And I’m willing to bet it’s a permanent change,” says futurist David Shrier.
Shrier is a lecturer in technology and innovation at MIT’s Media Lab and an associate fellow at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. He has always worked remotely from his home in the Charlestown Navy Yard, an urban enclave of apartments, stores, and restaurants within the much bigger city of Boston. With large companies—such as Twitter and Facebook—announcing that their employees can work from home permanently, he believes all corporations will soon encourage a lasting move towards remote working.
Along with the current health and safety concerns, Shrier sees practical benefits for corporations: “Companies are trying to reduce their outgoings and carbon footprint,” he explains, pointing out that employees are changing too. “A new generation is no longer wedded to the nine-to-five lifestyle. They’re accustomed to always being available, but also taking an afternoon break if they want.”
With this in mind, he’s not surprised that Monocle magazine recently identified a number of small cities as the world’s best places to work from home. “The integration of work and play facilities within walkable neighborhoods is vital to quality of life,” he continues. “And these are more often found in a smaller setting.”
Monocle created its shortlist by reviewing each city on statistics, such as life expectancy and crime rates. It included intangible qualities, ranking natural beauty highly along with “the right balance between opportunities for rich cultural experiences and that all-important space to breathe.”
The magazine also placed an emphasis on cities that combine work with play, with cafés and restaurants adding to the appeal of those they selected. While these social spaces are only slowly beginning to reopen in a world affected by COVID-19, they are sure to play a role in the cities we chose to work from in the future. “Social interaction is vital to us as pack animals,” explains Shrier, adding that in order to make working from home a sustainable long-term practice we’ll need to replace office conversations around the water cooler with a remote-working equivalent.
Access to good public transport—specifically a “well-connected airport”—was prioritized, but walkability was a major consideration too. “Urban dwellers have become a more health-conscious bunch, and small-city living can aid your mental and physical wellbeing,” it says, claiming a reduction in pollution, traffic, and more breathing room “results in a healthy antidote to the hustle and bustle of modern life.”
Read on to discover some of the cities that provide both natural attractions and working-from-home appeal—and are on track for a future boom in remote working.
Known as “le petit Paris,” this elegant city has transformed itself by cleaning up its waterfront and establishing one of the world’s best public transport systems. Elegant golden buildings and world-class restaurants have in recent years been supplemented with developments on the far bank of the Garonne, attracting start-ups and attractive coworking spaces that also incorporate dining and entertainment.
Boulder, Colorado, USA
This lively university town in the Rockies grew out of the hippie counterculture, and was home not only to beat poet Allen Ginsberg but early tech entrepreneurs who went on to become the first high-rollers in a uniquely creative, as well as affluent, community. Denver International Airport is reachable in 45 minutes, and the Chautauqua Trail, offering unrivaled views of the Flatiron peaks, is just a short drive away.
Only an hour from Tokyo, this town is a refuge of natural beauty thanks to its proximity to both the ocean and mountains. Good cycle paths allow easy biking to the beach, and the surfing is legendary. As you’d expect of a Japanese city, fantastic restaurants abound and, according to Monocle, city-wide initiatives to help working mothers make it particularly suitable for families.
The hub for many of Europe’s best ski resorts also offers urban appeal. New buildings by cutting-edge architects Snøhetta and Zaha Hadid sit on the slopes above a chocolate-box-pretty Old World city center. College kids keep the café and restaurant scene vibrant and, if the slopes ever pall, there’s metropolitan life less than two hours away in Munich, which also has an international airport.
On the shores of Lake Geneva, Lausanne is built on many levels, offering a waterside work situation for some, and a home office with thrilling hillside views for others. Funicular-style cars and street elevators keep the city accessible, while trains connect it with Geneva in one direction and the resort of Montreux in the other. For an easy and breathtakingly picturesque break from work, the trains also stop at the Lavaux vineyards, which offer a wonderful mountainside hike.
This city on the banks of the Douro is the birthplace of port wine, and was once mainly a gateway to the vineyards upstream. Now, Porto rivals Lisbon for urban living, attracting fashion and furniture designers as well as other creatives. It has more than its fair share of Portugal’s outstanding restaurants, and boasts its own international airport and connections to Spain’s high-speed rail system at Vigo.
Savannah, Georgia, USA
Known as the Hostess City, Savannah has long been a draw for those trying to break free from the urban rat race. Its historic center is highly walkable, punctuated by more than a dozen tree-lined squares, and public transport links with hip new neighborhoods are good. Café and restaurants are plentiful, and the city’s island suburbs have the added bonus of providing a great waterside lifestyle.