Don’t sweat office real estate price tags—tech’s going remote

November 20, 20174 Minute Read

There’s a real estate crunch occurring in some of Canada’s big cities: The rental markets in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver are all sky-high and increasing. While residential rents get the press, office real estate is experiencing the same sort of pressures. This affects the ability of those cities to attract talent and will slow the growth of the tech sector there. Despite this, We’re pretty confident Canada’s overall tech sector won’t shrink.

Predicting the future is always something of a mug’s game. Still, all of us make the attempt; we draw on both evidence and personal experience in order to plan as best we can for an uncertain future. Fortunately, technologists have generally been more accepting of risk than other sectors. Our collective embrace of non-traditional work styles and locations gives us an advantage, and helps us avoid Canada’s growing office real estate crunch. Thanks to tech, we can basically work anywhere.

Grab your laptop and head to the mountains

After assessing the Canadian real estate market, I made some choices that were outside the norm. I don’t want to live in one of Canada’s big cities, and am currently working towards taking myself and my own small tech company out to the boonies. I want something different for myself, but I don’t want to give up my job.

Thankfully, because Canada isn’t a backwater, I can move to the mountains and take my startup with me. I can live in the woods, innovate, and be part of a movement that’s seeing declining, resource-based villages change into booming knowledge-economy towns. It’s easier for me because I don’t have to worry about office real estate; I can work from home, thanks to mobile tech solutions.

This wouldn’t have been possible even at the turn of the millennium. Investments in rural broadband, expansion of the nation’s mobile networks, expansion of the country’s fibre backbone, and the rise of cloud services have all made working from home possible, no matter where home is. Tech workers can make their decisions about where to live based on criteria that matter to them—instead of what kind of office commute they can live with. Grab your laptop and and ADSL connection and make for the woods.

Invest in small and medium cities

Canada’s smaller cities have been putting effort into making themselves more attractive to knowledge workers and more competitive to business interests for some time.

  1. Okanogan valley and surrounding area. This popular tourist destination in the interior of BC has an exploding tech sector. There are numerous internet connectivity options in the Okanogan valley, and several decent-sized data centers have established themselves there. Organizations like the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation and the Kaslo infonet Society are delivering fibre-to-the-premises throughout the valleys rural towns and villages, turning BC’s fruit basket into something of a mecca for nerds.
  2. The Atlantic provinces have a similar tale. They boast unbelievably cheap real estate and there is a great deal of fibre-to-the-premises investment there. This story is slowly—but surely—being repeated in small and mid-sized cities all across Canada.
  3. For the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, current population projections are stunning. Even in the middle of a bust cycle driven by the recent low price of oil, net migration into the corridor seem bounded only by the speed at which new homes can be built. Both Edmonton and Calgary are being wired up with fibre-to-the-premises across the entire city. Other cities in the corridor (like Olds) already have fibre to every premises.
  4. Winnipeg is home to a burgeoning tech sector, with the headquarters for the wildly popular Skip The Dishes. Skip, like an increasing number of tech companies, has development offices in Saskatoon, and they seem to be constantly hiring.

Recent press has tried to paint both Montreal and Ottawa as emerging tech hubs. Some of this is true, but both cities face the same problems as Toronto or Vancouver: office real estate prices that are burdensome on startups and residential rents that few can afford. Fast forward to the small and medium Canadian cities with abundant office real estate and low residential rents. Cost competitiveness is enticing to a highly mobile tech workforce that’s more than willing to forgo significantly more expensive larger cities.

Embrace mobility and avoid high office real estate

If you look beyond the major metros, it’s easy to see that Canada’s tech sector won’t be slowing down any time soon. There are plenty of inexpensive places to live in this country, and decades of investment in broadband deployment and infrastructure upgrades are finally starting to pay off.

Companies are moving into these small and medium cities, bringing jobs with them—and some individual tech workers are even heading into the tiny villages and towns with the same idea. Thanks to the internet, many of us can do our jobs from anywhere we can find a decent connectivity. Canada’s real estate crunch gives us the collective impetus to finally embrace change and abandon the idea that cities are where innovation happens. Thanks to mobile tech advancements, we may never need to commute to cramped offices in overcrowded metros ever again.

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