Reshaping the workplace | News

CHICAGO — For Marcus Medsker, the pace of life in Quincy, Illinois, is slow. And he likes it that way.

Medsker, senior director of customer sales at Echo Global Logistics, lived in a two-bedroom condo in Chicago’s River North neighborhood just over a year ago. But when his wife became pregnant with their second child, they decided to move to his hometown.

The 37-year-old grew up in Quincy and said his December 2020 return was somewhat unexpected. But the low cost of living and small-town vibe has made living with young children much easier, and he said his closeness to his family was one of the most special aspects of his comeback. .

Before the pandemic, moving to another city wasn’t much of an option for Medsker, who is now a father of three.

“Me, working remotely was never really on the table, so until it became fully available, that’s when we kind of decided to look at Quincy,” he said. -he declares.

Medsker is one of millions of Americans who have worked from home during the pandemic. As the average number of COVID-19 cases continues to decline in the United States, many employers are cautiously optimistic about returning to the office. But for some, the changes of remote work are permanent.

According to a January Pew Research Center survey, about 59% of American workers who say their work can be done primarily remotely work from home all or most of the time. Since 2020, the share of people declaring that they have moved outside their work area has increased from 9% to 17%.

Many small towns in the Midwest, including Quincy, are trying to attract remote workers by using their sense of community to their advantage. The city advertises on a website called MakeMyMove, where people can browse a range of incentive packages offered in cities and towns across the United States. If they decide to move, they can submit an application to the destination of their choice.

Evan Hock, co-founder and chief product officer at MakeMyMove, which launched in December 2020, said he believes remote working has given people the freedom to tailor their lifestyle to their personal preferences, not the location of their employers. As a result, he said many remote workers choose to move to smaller towns because of affordability and opportunities to connect with the local community.

“A lot of these small towns and rural towns happen to offer a lot of what people leaving the big cities are looking for,” Hock said.

In fact, Nicholas Epley, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said the sense of community people find in small towns can sometimes replace some of the social connections that are lost in working environments. remote work.

Epley said social connection happens more when real, in-person conversations happen. While most people understand the value of ties to family and close friends, he said they often underestimate the importance of weaker, more distant ties.

“Acquaintances, more distant colleagues, even conversations with strangers are also important for our well-being,” he said. “What you’re going to lose when you don’t go to the office regularly is a wider social network that comes from connecting formally and informally with the colleagues you work with.”

While those more distant connections can be lost by working remotely, Epley said it’s certainly possible to find them elsewhere, such as in a small town. Ultimately, he said, where people find meaningful connections depends a lot on the individual and what they do for a living. “Just a nice little town”

Quincy resident Ricci Dula has had no shortage of social connections since moving to the area with his family from Redlands, Calif., in 2019.

As he sipped his black salt caramel iced mocha — the same drink he orders every time he visits Electric Fountain Brewing — he said hello to the cafe’s only two other customers, both of whom knew Dula from his name. The father-of-two said he got used to seeing familiar faces in grocery stores and restaurants, which rarely happened when he lived in California.

Quincy, home to approximately 40,000 residents, has four National Register of Historic Places districts filled with more than 3,500 impressive buildings with distinct architecture. Ornate stone and brick homes dominate the city’s residential streets, and quaint storefronts are clustered just blocks from the banks of the Mississippi River.

Dula joked that his days of road rage are long behind him, as it takes less than 15 minutes to get from one side of town to the other.

“The sense of community is greatest in a small town,” said Dula, who moved to Quincy for his career, where he serves as scout director for the Mississippi Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America. “From a safety perspective, activities for young people, starting a family or establishing yourself as an employee, I would say Quincy is worth it.”

Residents of other small towns are also proud of where they live; some have even come up with their own creative incentives to attract new families.

In Greensburg, Ind., the relocation package includes $5,000, gift cards for the seasonal farmers’ market and, among other things, a “Grandparents on Demand” service, in which longtime resident Tami Wenning and her husband offer free childcare for those moving to the area.

Located in Decatur County, halfway between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, Greensburg has a population of 13,000.

Wenning has lived in Decatur County all her life, and she said she offered Grandparents on Demand when she was asked to help brainstorm ideas for MakeMyMove. She wanted to show how welcoming the community is and, as she has children and grandchildren of her own, she said she knows there are times when parents have to trust someone. to watch over their children.

As a result, whether new families need a date or someone to fill in for the grandparents’ party at school, Wenning said she and her husband are happy to volunteer.

“It’s second nature here; you want to step in and help somebody with their kids,” she said. “It’s the coolest thing on Earth to be a grandparent.”

Remote workers Kasey and Doug Waltz moved to Greensburg from Mason, Ohio, in November, and they said they’ve already come to appreciate the safety, community and convenience of a small town. As parents of two children under the age of 2, they said the incentives really suited their needs.

“The region is phenomenal; everything we want is right around us,” said Doug Waltz. “It’s just a nice little town.” “What they value in life”

In Quincy, “Help Wanted” signs hang from the windows of many businesses along the city’s main streets. Mayor Mike Troup said there are more than 700 full-time positions open even though unemployment in the area is below 3%.

To address Quincy’s aging and stagnating population, the Great River Economic Development Foundation, the city and county’s leading economic development organization, launched a campaign called “Quincy’s Calling” in September. The campaign is working to encourage families — including remote workers — to move to Quincy.

Quincy’s Calling works in tandem with another city initiative that provides a financial incentive for individuals and families to move. Participants can apply for a $5,000 rebate on property taxes or a $3,500 rebate on rent or lease payments if they accept employment in Adams County and reside within the city limits of Quincy for a specified period of time.

Over the past five months, more than 55 families have moved to Quincy as part of Quincy’s Calling campaign, including a number of remote workers.

Kyle Moore, the foundation’s president, said he believed the accessibility of remote work influenced the success of the campaign.

“I definitely think the pandemic has caused people to stop and look at what they value in life and the quality of life they want to lead,” Moore said.

For barbershop owners Elizabeth and Matthew Thomas, the cost of their 10,000 square foot Victorian stone mansion was too good to pass up. The couple left the San Francisco Bay Area a year and a half ago and opened Gold Line Barbershop just a week after arriving.

Matthew Thomas is particularly interested in the history of Quincy. The walls of the barbershop are covered with newspaper clippings that detail the town’s criminal past during the Prohibition era; a story that Thomas says he finds “fascinating”. He’s passionate about protecting older homes in the area, so he said he thinks the city’s efforts to attract new residents are a great idea.

“A lot of these giant, architecturally beautiful Victorian mansions on the north and south end of the city have kind of been left behind, and they’re just waiting to be saved,” he said. declared. “Every time I drive there, it’s like I want to buy more.”

Moore, the foundation’s president, said the early success of the Quincy’s Calling campaign was encouraging and he hopes the positive momentum will continue to grow.

“I think if you had asked us when it started, that we would have had, you know, 25 people in a year, we would have been happy,” he said. “We hope every year that we can snowball.”

Despite the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, remote work is here to stay. According to data scientists at Ladders, a job board for positions that pay over $100,000, 25% of all jobs in North America will be entirely remote by the end of the year.

The office doors are still closed for Quincy resident Medsker, and even if they do reopen, he said he’ll only have to make the trip to Chicago once in a while.

Medsker said having his kids changed everything, and moving to a small town gave him the simple life he couldn’t find in Chicago.

“We never really considered Quincy as an option, and then, you know, as we got deeper into it, things became clearer,” he said. “We wouldn’t withdraw the decision for anything in the world.”

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