‘I’m Leaving London Just As It Reopens’ – The Rise In Working From Anywhere

Faced with the prospect of never returning to the office full-time, Terri White's previously unshakeable belief that she needed to be in London to do her job started to wobble...

Flexible working

by Terri White |
Updated on

I ran downstairs, coming to an abrupt stop by the door to the front room. I peered round it. ‘Why don’t we just... go?’ I said. Definitely a statement more than a question. ‘What?’ answered my boyfriend. ‘What’s stopping us?’ I shot back, aware he knew exactly what I was talking about. ‘Come on: fuck it!’ And with that, one of our shortest conversations became one of our biggest decisions.

After 21 years (me) and 15 years (him), we were leaving London for Manchester. My boyfriend and I had gone over it again that morning: how we both loved Manchester. How much we missed our family in the North. How eventually, when my full-time office job as a magazine editor came to either its natural or unnatural end, we’d head 163 miles north and a bit west.

We’re not the only ones: post-Covid, one in seven Londoners want to leave the city (even if, like me, they’re simply opting for a different one). The thirst for greener, wider spaces after a year indoors isn’t just from those in the capital, though. Last June and July, Rightmove saw buyer inquiries from 10 cities nationwide rise by 78% on the year prior. When it came to villages: a whopping 126%. Why – aside from being sick to death of our own four walls – is clear. Most employers are offering more flexibility, including Nationwide, which just became the latest company to tell staff they could ‘work anywhere’ post lockdown. And anywhere could include, well, anywhere: according to relocation agent Perchpeek, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Vietnam are the top overseas destinations.

Against this shifting backdrop, my boyfriend and I had already been having this conversation for a year, maybe even two. Definitely since I became pregnant. The volume and pitch both rose when the smallest of things (our son) became the biggest obstacle to our living situation. Then Covid arrived and our life – lived mostly in parks, restaurants, pubs, cinemas and the office – shrank to take place entirely inside.

We live in a small, narrow, higgledy- piggledy two-bed flat in Hampstead. We have no garden, just a 6ft-by-6ft balcony that only gets the sun until around 11am. Most mornings, the three of us would cram further into one corner, being chased by the shadow of the departing sun. We became aware that our timeframe and that of our boy weren’t quite aligned. He’s crawling – barely gaining momentum before he crashes into furniture – and soon going to be walking, then running and tumbling (probably into walls).

Then came the likelihood that we would never return to our office full-time. The question instead became: two days a week or three? No longer being required to sit in a specific seat in a specific London office for 50 hours a week reframed the conversation to one about being able, in part, to work from anywhere (though Manchester’s not quite Aruba). About productivity being the goal, not presenteeism.

Though I must confess to loving the office. The alchemy of being in a room with a gang of brilliant, funny, smart people. We make something physical and the chemistry of that room lands on the pages that we produce and bind. But if we will only be enjoying this part-time, my previously unshakeable belief – that I must live in London to do my job – starts to wobble in its middle. Why couldn’t I simply commute to London the days we were required in the office? Turns out I could. I can.

And so, just like that, we’re off. We leave London in exactly 11 days. The city that I became a woman in, learned my craft in, fell in love in, gave birth to my son in. But it’s time to see who I am elsewhere. And if I ever simply miss who I was: she’s only a 163-mile commute away.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us