Article by: Keith Doherty
As Covid-19 has more companies and employees scrambling to rethink the home-work environment, the “new normal” has simply been normal for the remote workers of the New River Gorge area, and the global pandemic has only confirmed what they’ve known for quite a while- Fayette County is an ideal place to find the work-life balance.
“Remote work is booming; it's been increasing steadily over the past twenty years. And now with this pandemic, it's just going through the roof- more and more jobs are becoming remote,” says Tom Gerencer, author of two books and a content writer for companies including HP, Adorama Camera, and Zety.com to name a few. “A lot of companies are realizing they don't need to have people in a physical office.”
Ethan Geyer, a Software Product Design Principal currently working for a marketing technology company called Acoustic, completely agrees. “Our company has around 1,000 employees located in San Francisco, Atlanta, Raleigh, NYC, Boston, Poland, and all parts in between, so remote collaboration is a constant. On any given project, I’m working with folks from all over the world, so the fact that I’m sitting in my office in Fayetteville versus an office in a big city doesn’t have much of an impact.”
The same is true for Kate McDaniel, a professional engineer in the Digital Solutions Group of Trinity Consultants, an engineering consulting firm. “I can work from the moon as long as I'm close to an airport and have access to a telephone.”
Gerencer quips, “It also helps to have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones in case my kids are having lightsaber battles in the same room.”
And that could be said for most remote workers all over the country. As long as they have a quiet space, a laptop, and an internet connection, they can work from anywhere.
So why did these folks choose Fayette County, WV?
Geyer says “After having spent ten years in the triangle region of North Carolina going back to school and nurturing our careers, my wife and I realized that we were spending almost all of our time coming back to Fayetteville to visit family, friends, and these beautiful outdoor spaces. We made the move back here last summer to spend more of our time playing outside and raising our daughter in the New River Gorge.”
Gerencer adds, “So I’ve lived all over. I’m originally from Maine. I’ve lived in some of the coolest towns- Breckenridge, Colorado; Bend, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Missoula, Montana- checked out all kinds of cool places, and Fayette County beats them.
“If you’re a hunter, or you like fishing, or you like rock climbing, or you like whitewater, which is my favorite thing, the drive times are very short. So, within a half-hour drive from my house, I have some of the best whitewater in the country. I mean anywhere else in the country you might have great whitewater for six weeks. You might have great skiing for four months. But in Fayetteville, West Virginia, you have year-round, fantastic outdoor opportunities. There's not what they call a shoulder season, which you have out West, where you're spending five or six months thinking ‘What do I do now while I wait for the ski mountain to open back up?’ You’re never doing that in Fayetteville. And that's not true anywhere else I've lived, especially with the short drive times.”
“It’s literally the community,” says McDaniel. “The people here are super rad. I was getting home from a work trip and then not even going to my house in North Carolina. I had my bags packed in the car and went to Fayetteville almost every weekend. I came home one week and was like, ‘This is stupid. Why am I doing this? I should just move to Fayetteville.’ And so I did, and it's really just the people and the community. And the fact that the outdoors is so accessible. You're hiking; you're biking; you're whitewater rafting; you're doing whatever you want to do, and I just love being outdoors with the people who live here.”
Geyer adds, “More than some magical moment or epic trip here, I think it’s the ability to tap into the adventure and outdoor experiences without the kind of planning and traveling for recreation that it took when we lived in a more urban area. Whether it’s a weekend skiing at Snowshoe, a hike straight from our house down into the Gorge, family mountain biking, or a trip down the river—it all feels so close and accessible. I traded a nearly two-hour daily commute to now live and work within a mile of the Gorge. It’s also incredibly easy to grab a flight out of Charleston when I need to travel to one of our offices for in-person events or meetings with my teammates.”
McDaniel laughs, “I would not recommend this to anybody, but you can literally get there when your flight is boarding and still make your flight without having to run through the airport. It's really accessible.”
That’s not to say working remotely in the area doesn’t come with its challenges.
For starters, not all Internet in West Virginia is created equal. The folks who have cable internet are doing just fine, but it can be a struggle at home if you have DSL, or even worse, satellite.
But aside from basic infrastructure, working independently has its own hurdles.
Geyer says, “It can be hard to unplug from work when you don’t have a commute standing between your home and your office. “
“You really are isolated,” says Gerencer. “You don't have that network of office friends or acquaintances around you anymore. I have my family and that's great. If it weren't for kayaking, I don't think I'd ever see anybody, especially during this pandemic. It's actually been easier on me than it has been on a lot of people because I'm kind of used to it.”
McDaniel says, “Well, some people just can't work from home; it’s not a lifestyle they can handle. But if you can handle it, you're going to fall into one of two categories.
“The first category is you're either going to want to do anything but work, and you're going to have to figure out how to make that happen. You're going to want to do housework, or the dishes, or take your dog for a walk, or run errands, or whatever. And you just have to make yourself disciplined to work or you’re not going to have that job for very long.
“Or the second category is the one I fall into: you're going to carry your laptop around the house everywhere, and you're going to end up working 18 hours a day. And you’ll burn out if you do that.
“It takes a while to get that regimented discipline. You also have to force yourself to get out. I have seen myself sit in my house for a week, and never leave. And that can get really lonely and depressing. That's one of the reasons why I moved here. It’s so easy to get out of your house and go on a quick bike ride, hike, or go see friends to get that interaction with people.”
Having a dedicated space for work can be a crucial aspect for working remotely.
McDaniel says, “I have a whole bedroom that I have converted to an office, and it's just like anybody else's office. It’s really important to have a dedicated space that I can come in and out of, so you can just shut the door at the end of the day- just like you're actually leaving an office building. It's so weird because it's literally in your house, but when I leave my office, I'm done working, and I leave it there for tomorrow.”
But working remotely also allows you to not be tied to that designated workspace when the time is right.
Gerencer says, “We have a little 20-year-old pontoon boat with a tiny motor that we love to go out on Summersville Lake. I bought solar panels and a solar battery for it. Now I can go and camp out for a few days in a row. And I can work. I set my own work hours from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon. And, then I can stop work, take over from my wife, and play with the kids all afternoon and all evening- swimming and kayaking with them on the lake. So, I'm not married to my office, and I don't have a commute.”
McDaniel says, “I have really flexible work hours. If I don't want to take a personal day, I can take a Wednesday off and then work on a Saturday instead. I can randomly take a day off to go skiing when the conditions might be best.
“I started mountain biking when I moved here. It's been nice to learn a new skill and get involved in a new sport when you haven't been doing it forever. People are super cool about riding the easy, kiddie trails with you. And I just picked up paddleboarding this year as well, and I really enjoy exploring places like Kanawha Falls. This is a great place to get involved.”
And with the trend of working from home increasing by the day. We can only reason that there will be even more opportunities for remote workers to enjoy Fayette County.
Geyer says, “I would love to see Fayetteville emerge as a hub for creative / tech remote jobs. More and more large companies are adopting flexible working policies, and I know lots of friends in the Bay Area who would trade their small apartments and weekend warrior trips for an opportunity to live, play, and work here.”
“My friends who live in Seattle that make the exact salary that I do are living with three friends, and they're struggling to make ends meet. They’re living paycheck to paycheck, paying exorbitant rent for houses or small apartments,” says McDaniel.
Gerencer adds, “The economy in places like Fayetteville is going to boom as there's more and more remote jobs available. People are going to continue to want to live here, and people who are originally from here are going to realize they don't have to leave. They can get a remote job and stay in this amazing place.”