how do e-changers feel about leaving town now that the shutdowns are over?
In 2020, propelled by the pandemic and the push to work from home, thousands of Australian households have made the decision to move from the city to the countryside. A significant portion of these internal migrants were “electronic changers,” workers who kept their jobs in the city and worked remotely.
At the height of the lockdown period, as increasing numbers of city dwellers traded their urban lifestyle to work in remote and rural settings, we conducted online interviews with households in e-change coastal hotspots and “lifestyle cities” in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. We looked into their experiences of lifestyle migration, including the challenges faced by these pioneers of working and living remotely. We then spoke to our e-changers a year later to see how they were doing.
One of the first pandemic e-changers was Charles and his partner. They moved to a coastal location a two-hour drive from Melbourne in March 2020.
Before the pandemic, Charles was a busy librarian at a large downtown university. Working in the bustling heart of the city, her day job involved regular contact with academic staff and students in the library and across campus.
Fast forward to today and Charles’ daily routine when working remotely is very different. Her work day – now largely spent online – is still extremely busy, but it could start with a surf and end with a walk on the beach.
For many, this scenario probably sounds like a dream lifestyle, especially for those of us who have spent much of the past two years under lockdown. But does the switch to remote regional work as idyllic as it sounds? What types of people have decided to become e-changers? And what were their experiences?
3 types of electronic changers
The e-changers of our study were a diverse group of people with various motivations for settling in the country. We found three major groups of e-changers, marked by different life stages.
The first group – represented by older couples like Charles and Di – had often been planning a lifestyle change for some time, in anticipation of early retirement.
The second group consisted of young couples and singles. They were often motivated by a desire to live closer to natural amenities such as beaches, forests, or mountains. Research director Irene and her partner, for example, moved from the Melbourne center to Mount Macedon in Victoria in May 2020. Irene recalls:
We’ve been talking about it for a while because we’re both in the region. But after Melbourne’s first lockdown we thought “let’s go” so we found a rental here. For us, it was about having better access to the outdoors – we both love biking, hiking, running and rock climbing.
The third and largest group were households with dependent children. They were generally looking for more affordable, larger homes with space for their children to spend time outdoors. Kevin, an engineer whose family moved from Sydney to Wollongong, is a good example of these aspirations:
When we had our second child […] we wanted to buy a family home but the price was out of Sydney so we cast our net in remote and regional areas – the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, but Wollongong topped the list based on distance to my office, more relaxed lifestyle, closer to beach and bush, good schools, good healthcare, wasn’t too small, wasn’t too big.
Different groups, different results
We spoke with our e-changers a year later. How did they find the experience of living at a significant distance from the cultural life and conveniences of a big city?
Although they miss the cosmopolitanism and vitality of the city, Charles and Di still enjoy the calm, daily encounters with wildlife and close ties with neighbors in their small coastal town. But they now rent out an Airbnb in Melbourne a few nights a week. These regular trips allow them to reconnect with their colleagues and get a dose of urban dynamism.
In contrast, Irene and her partner returned to Melbourne from Mount Macedon. While the e-change experience was a “fun break from the city and an experience of regional life”, Irene’s commitment to her career meant she wanted to be close to her desk. The long train journeys – compounded by cancellations and service delays – made his working days in the city long and tiring.
Long-time electronic changers, Kevin and his family do not regret their move. They can’t imagine going back to town. For Kevin, the flexibility of working from home has allowed him to share more of the home care role, such as cooking dinner and going back to school, with his partner, a busy healthcare worker.
This is [working from home] the path to follow. I don’t think anyone will come back.
However, for professionals like Kevin, living and working remotely still presents some limitations in terms of access to transportation and airports.
We need to have access or be connected to a major centre, whether by rail or public transport, so that we never lose this possibility of being able to attend a meeting in town if they need to. And I think Australia will improve in this area.
This article is republished from The conversation is the world’s leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Tania Lewis, RMIT University; Andrew Glover, RMIT Universityand Julian Waters Lynch, RMIT University.
Tania Lewis received funding from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) to conduct this research.
Andrew Glover received funding from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) to conduct this research.
Julian Waters-Lynch received funding from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) to conduct this research.