This article first appeared in print in the August, 2018 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
A growing number of remote workers are leaving the woes of city life behind in favour of meaning found in the mountains. It could transform Revelstoke’s economy, contributing to as much as 10 per cent of the city’s working population if the trend continues to grow.
Among the evolving number of employees who don’t have a fixed office are engineers, environmental consultants, photographers, writers, tech workers, and students.
Amaris Bourdeau, who left Vancouver for Revelstoke less than a year ago, is one of them.
Bourdeau, 25, works as a copywriter for Canadian communications giant TELUS, producing content for their website and managing internal communications.
She says she was nervous to ask her managers for the opportunity to work remotely and leave city-slicking Vancouver behind, where she attended graduate school and studied publishing at Simon Fraser University. But fortunately for her, her employers, who valued her work ethic and drive, were happy to have her work remotely. The best part? Instead of sacrificing lifestyle for career, the young writer with two degrees is able to balance her chosen lifestyle with her chosen work.
“It’s a really great opportunity for people who want to have a career and still live this kind of lifestyle. And It’s just such an amazing community,” Bourdeau says over coffee in her Southside home. “I would never want to leave. It’s really special. I have so much freedom to work and build the life I want here.”
Tech Strategy bolsters Revelstoke’s economy
According to Karilyn Kempton, who is the technology strategy coordinator at the City of Revelstoke, TELUS is far from the only major corporation with employees who work and live in Revelstoke.
In an e-mail to the Mountaineer, Kempton wrote that two city surveys have identified at least 25 remote workers working for companies like Adobe, Mapbox and Shopify. Those numbers only account for tech workers who work distinctly remotely, meaning they don’t pick up any local work or clients.
While Kempton’s estimate of workers who do absolutely no local work is modest, another survey completed by the city in 2017 — according to an article published by Imagine Kootenay — found over 100 workers living in Revelstoke who worked remotely in the tech sector, balancing local work with external opportunities. Which is a number that is growing as a result of a concerted effort on the part of the city to attract entrepreneurs and remote workers through its high tech strategy, which it has developed over the last three years.
Among the main goals of the strategy is to strengthen and diversify the local economy, one that has traditionally relied on energy, forestry, and transportation. So can remote workers stack up?
A look at the numbers
Consider for a moment that there are 100 remote workers in the tech sector. Add to that the number of students, engineers, photographers, environmental consultants, non-profit, NGO workers, and contract workers, who have made Revelstoke home over the last five years.
Suddenly, that small number begins to grow pretty quickly.
In fact, as early as 2015, the same year high-speed fibre-optic Internet was introduced to Revelstoke, at least 230 Revelstokians were working from home, according to the most recent census data. Making it fair, and perhaps modest, compounded with the city’s survey, to estimate that there are between 150 and 300 people living in Revelstoke right now who work remotely. I mean, we all know one, right?
Compare that rough number with the number of employees who work for BC Hydro, CP Rail, and in the forestry sector.
According to the most recent census data they account for about a quarter of Revelstoke’s working population — which sits at just over 4,000. The service and hospitality industry in turn, accounts for about nine per cent of local workers. So by comparison, that 150 to 300 — a number that is estimated to grow, starts to stack up at between about 4 to 7.5 per cent of the total working population.
Born out of necessity
Jewelles Smith is one of Revelstoke’s original remote workers. She’s an artist and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, where she works out of the Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship.
Smith, in addition to holding numerous contract positions, has worked as research assistant and teacher’s assistant, Skyping in to class from Revelstoke to work with her students in Kelowna.
She was born in the region and moved back to the Kootenay-Columbia some eight years ago so that her son could attend high school here. But it wasn’t a decision she made lightly. Much the same as her decision to work remotely was, it was born out of necessity.
Smith’s son is autistic and she was worried he would be ostracized as by the Vancouver school system, who she says segregates students with disabilities. So the Ph.D. candidate who studies disability rights, called up the local school district and put together a program for her son, allowing her to move back to a community she says she has always loved. The only problem: there aren’t really a lot of professional opportunities for career development here.
“There’s a limited number of opportunities for long term professional growth in Revelstoke,” says Smith, working out of the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre. “That’s the reality here. Many of us have to look elsewhere.”
That reality forced her to look elsewhere to balance her career with the lifestyle and community she wanted to be able to provide for her son.
A call on the horizon
Eight years later, Smith’s claim holds true. It’s not easy to live and play in the mountains, and cultivate a professional career in a small community where everyone knows your name and cares about you.
So remote working, which is as much about cultivating lifestyle and community as it is about cultivating professional growth, could significantly impact Revelstoke’s economy if the trend continues to grow, which the statistics indicate it will. A 2017 report from Randstatd Canada, (a national division of a global human resource consulting company,) found that “non traditional workers” currently make up between 20 and 30 per cent of the workforce of the companies surveyed, with a quarter of those employees freelancing.
Randstad also estimates that by 2025, 32 per cent of workers employed by the company’s surveyed will be “remote workers,” and they say 85 per cent of those companies anticipate that the number will continue to grow, meaning more and more workers may have the freedom to pick Revelstoke as a home base.
Whether a tech strategy and the growth of remote working can transform Revelstoke’s economy by bringing in more companies and people remains to be seen. But for the many who’ve made Revelstoke home, and will make Revelstoke home, and for those who have worked with city to cultivate the growth of that community, it certainly appears to be an expanding horizon.