In March 2020, I told myself I would never visit Seagrove Beach, Florida, again.
Despite having owned a second home on its shores for nearly 20 years, I decided we would not be vacationing there ever again.
Not because we had fallen out of love with the place, with its turquoise blue water, sugar-white sand and laid back hometown vibe, but because with remote working advancements, we could now live there permanently.
Like millions of others around the world, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our lives—and especially our working lives—changed dramatically. Office buildings closed, meetings and conferences were canceled, and face-to-face sales events were curtailed.
Having spent 25 years working for some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies and global advertising agencies, I was accustomed to a very corporate life. I commuted, attended team meetings, ate meals in company canteens, and amassed countless points and miles in airports and hotels.
But here I was, in my early 50s with high school and college-aged children, about to pack it all in and move to Zoom Town.
Zoom Town, of course, isn’t an actual place. It has no zip code.
It is any number of locations across the USA and beyond where a community experiences a significant population increase as remote work lifestyles become more popular. The name is a play on “Boomtown” from the days when gold and oil were first discovered, and on the name of the web video conferencing tool, Zoom.
By the summer of 2020, the pandemic had led to the phenomenon of significant migration to beach communities, ski resorts, and quaint, rural country towns. Research suggests there are 35 million global digital nomads working remotely – 30% of them Americans.
The pandemic sent some people retreating to their second homes—beach houses and ski lodges where they converted the third bedroom into an office complete with Zoom conference call technology and fast fiber networks.
Firms quickly recognized the advantage of having staff working remotely, how much happier and more satisfied they were, how productivity improved, and the cost-saving of not having to heat and cool or maintain and secure enormous office blocks in the world’s most expensive cities.
Encouraged by such discoveries and trends, more and more people have started to explore working remotely, and they’re looking for the ideal spot to relocate.
There are many considerations for anyone looking to move to Zoom Town. The first is to decide if this is a permanent move or just a temporary one. The idea of packing up your whole life and moving across the country or overseas forever isn’t one to take lightly. For families with kids in tow, the challenges are even more pronounced.
According to academic and leading urbanologist Richard Florida, author of the book Who’s Your City, schools are the number one consideration for most remote workers thinking about permanently relocating.
But many of those looking to take advantage of remote working opportunities see this as a temporary option. They may be thinking that when things return to ‘normal,’ they will be back in the big city again. For others, particularly the Millennials and Generation Z demographics, permanent doesn’t mean that much to them. They may be looking at Zoom Towns as somewhere to spend a fixed period or, like digital snowbirds, just the winter months, or perhaps just ‘somewhere to hang’ until the next great opportunity arises.
We know today’s college leavers don’t expect jobs for life, homeownership, and financial securities previous generations demanded from work, so picking a community that meets their lifestyle aspirations — sporting, community or cultural — may be high on the list of priorities.
And smart mayors and town officials are now seeing the inherent economic benefits of becoming a Zoom Town.
Understanding what remote workers want and need and then showcasing it to prospective new residents is what many towns and smaller cities are now focused on. Some small towns are offering relocation grants, work visas, and even free electric bikes to tempt new remote workers.
Communities are now competing to attract talent. As well as having great natural attractions like lakes, beaches or mountains, city councils and town administrations recognize they need to be providing other important amenities too – the aforementioned great schools, but also available and affordable housing, good transport infrastructure, hospitals, and leisure facilities.
And what Zoom Towns have quickly discovered is that this influx of new remote workers is having a huge multiplier effect on the local economy. Not only do new residents pay their taxes and do their shopping locally, but they also create demand for new businesses providing the services they were used to having in their previous urban homes, such as dog walking and pet sitting, electric bikes and e-scooters, food delivery and coffee shops, health food stores, and gyms.
While comparing house prices, tax rates, and proximity to beaches or mountains is important in deciding if Zoom Town living is for you, potential remote workers also need to know they can successfully perform their jobs from where they choose to locate. After all, this is not early retirement or downsizing. It isn’t about dropping out and spending more time with your dog, and though using your free time more enjoyably is a definite bonus, you still must earn a living.
I am a writer and a marketing consultant mainly involved in real estate development, economic regeneration, and tourism, so the warm shores of Florida are ideal. I’m in the same time zone as many of my clients, plus I can easily get to customers and contacts if the need arises.
My Zoom Town is in fact an entire county — Walton County in Northwest Florida. It already had a population of around 75,000, good digital infrastructure, great restaurants and bars, two growing airports less than an hour away and it is bisected by the I-10 interstate for access to New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston in the west and Atlanta, Jacksonville and Tampa to the east.
Remote working may paint a picture of isolation, but the reality is we need places to co-create, to meet like-minded individuals, and to grow our businesses or careers.
While every Starbucks on earth has a budding playwright working on a script, the best Zoom Towns have opened dedicated studios and conference call centers from which remote executives can have multi-participant events with colleagues or clients and enjoy the tech-support we were used to back in the office.
In our Zoom Town, I recently hosted a training event for a multinational agency with tele-conferencing for participants from Europe, New York, and Los Angeles. With the digital network and expertise in the hands of dedicated professionals, the event was a huge success, it was a fraction of the cost of flying all these people to one central location for a week, and it has led to a new repeat revenue stream for my business too.
But the real benefit of living in Zoom Town is your happiness.
Now, instead of commuting on busy roads and packed trains for two hours a day to and from the office, I have time to cycle to the gym, swim in the Gulf, and make breakfast for my youngest before she heads off to school.
These, I believe, are the moments of life-affirming happiness remote working in Zoom Town delivers.
Zadar has opened the world’s first purpose-built remote working village, nicknamed ‘The Valley.’ A historic port town in Croatia with thriving markets, glistening beaches, and all the fresh seafood you could wish for, it is also one of the most progressive cities in Croatia and offers a good mix of history and innovation.
Lewes combines the charm of an East Coast beach town but offsets the cost of living with Delaware’s famously low taxes. Add a strong local food scene and some affordable high-speed internet, and you’ve got yourself one of the greatest towns for remote working.
Aruba advertises itself to tourists as ‘One Happy Island.’ Now U.S. remote workers who sign up for the ‘One Happy Workation’ program can enjoy three months of special rates, free WiFi, and all-inclusive food and beverage options. You can even bring your pets.
Tulum has the infrastructure to cater to this upsurge of remote workers, offering reliable WiFi, remote working spaces, digital nomad groups, and clubs. The cost of living is low, it is in the same time zone as the U.S. and the lifestyle benefits are huge.
This vibrant So-Cal coastal city is rich in history and home to a vibrant arts scene, both of which embody its liveliness and casual atmosphere. Ventura also has an impressive 32 parks and historic sites, award-winning schools, and 272 days of sunshine every year.