Fortunately, solutions are on the horizon. Initiatives like the UK government’s Rural Connected Communities competition – £30m ($34m, €32m) worth of funding to ensure the benefits of 5G connectivity reach countryside communities – will ensure economic activity can thrive anywhere.
The Prince’s Countryside Fund’s Digital Villages project is exploring how technologies can be harnessed to attract businesses to rural areas and bolster local economies. Should these initiatives prove successful, and new business attitudes fast-tracked by Covid-19 take hold, the idea of cities as strongholds of economic activity will be challenged.
Instead, firms will thrive outside of cities. New business hotspots will form. Take the Silicon Fen – the area around Cambridge in the UK, which has become home to a cluster of high-tech firms focusing on software, electronics and biotechnology. Elsewhere, green-collar communities are primed to emerge in coastal towns home to renewable energy businesses.
For brands, unlocking the digital potential of rural areas in the UK alone could add up to £26bn ($29bn, €28bn) to the economy annually, according to Rural England.
It could also bring a vital reboot to regions that have suffered brain drain into urban areas, and is a development likely to appeal to wellness-focused Generation Z and Millennial workers, who are beginning to shun fast-moving, crowded and polluted urban living for the decelerated pace of the countryside. In fact, the average age of people moving from London to the countryside fell below 40 for the first time last year, according to the Hamptons International.
While it might require a global crisis for people to step back and consider how, why and where they work – and crucially what they want from their professional lives – it’s fuelling business transformation like never before. As Arlin Tao, senior director at design studio IDEO, says: ‘The only thing that most people agree on is when things go back to normal, it’s not going to be the normal that we were used to before.’
For more on the changing attitudes and innovations that will shape the future of work, explore our dedicated vertical.
Look out for our full research series where we explore how brands can navigate COVID-19 - launching on LS:N Global next week.