New work, new cities?
Can we re-imagine Venice as a city of contemporary work, a place for experimenting the future of our working life? The Covid-19 pandemic has surprisingly opened such a perspective, accelerating the growth of the work-from-anywhere phenomenon and changing drastically the game of city development.
As the number of talented, high-skills workers that can choose where they want to work has been reaching a mass scale, cities are realising that they don’t need any more to compete to attract companies – they can also and above all compete to attract talents. Venice is potentially very well equipped to play this new game successfully. Venywhere – a project supported by the Fondazione di Venezia, Ca’ Foscari and IUAV – has been created to ease this transition and attract workers-from-anywhere to Venice.
Some useful distinctions.
Some distinction is needed to avoid confusion. Work-from-anywhere is not work-from-home. Many of us have been living the frustrating experience of being constrained at home, compressing our life space to make room for improvised home offices. Work-from-anywhere is different. It is a form of geographic flexibility. It leverages on the possibilities of remote work enabled by digital communication but goes beyond it. In the words of Marc Andreessen, one of the fathers of the web, it is “a consequence of the internet that’s maybe even more important than the internet”. A growing number of skilled workers are looking for the freedom of choosing where to live and work. For the first time such type of flexibility is the most important factor to skilled employees when considering a new role.
What attracts workers from anywhere?
Venice is a very attractive place for such workers for many reasons. It offers an extraordinary location, surrounded by a unique natural environment. It also offers opportunities of a rewarding work/life balance. It is an international city, well-connected to the world and rich in cultural opportunities. It offers a stimulating environment for creativity and concentration. There are also potential negative factors: workers form anywhere are naturally concerned about finding a home, a space to work, and solving the many hassles of moving abroad. But they are also concerned about finding a community into which to integrate, and to which to contribute with their skills and time. That’s why Venywhere is creating a platform that not only makes a ‘soft landing’ to Venice possible, but also connects workers and the local community (artisans associations, small businesses) providing occasions of interaction and integration and also potential economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
Who will come?
Can we draw a portrait of the workers potentially coming to Venice to work from here? Venywhere conducted a survey with online communities of remote workers. Those interested in coming to Venice (a majority of respondents) are mostly working in the High Tech industry, in technological roles but also in marketing or communication roles, typically with higher education, middle management positions and high income. Their age is equally spread in the 30-50 interval. Most have no children but would come with their partner for more than 6 months. And, interestingly, the majority of them are women. This suggests important reflections on re-thinking Venice as a city of contemporary workers but also as a city for working women. An opportunity hard to dismiss for the future of the city.
The city as a workspace
Richard Florida, a leading thinker in urban economics, has recently suggested that “even as offices decline, the community or the neighbourhood or the city itself will take on more of the functions of an office.” We take this insight very seriously and try to think that the whole city must become a diffuse workspace, in which workers can move across multiple workspaces that respond differently to their needs. For this, Venice is an ideal playground offering different spaces that are often only partially utilised, and where workers from anywhere can interact with locals of different kinds and profession. Furthermore, we want to create opportunities to rethink working in the open air, by creating spaces where people can productively work in the open, maybe growing themselves the open environment in which they work. For this, we have been working with a dense network of players – research institutions, libraries, museums, associations, but also single artisans or even private restaurants or hotels – that can already supply a remarkable variety of workspaces in a flexible way with simple online reservation mechanisms.
A new kind of citizen?
Finally, the growth of workers from anywhere is raising interesting questions about the nature of citizenship. A new kind of ‘temporary citizen’ is emerging. Of course, workers form anywhere are not ‘temporary citizens’ in a legalistic sense – at best they are temporary residents. However, they establish non-permanent but potentially deep ties with the hosting community. And as the link between working in a place and being a citizen of it loosens, workers from anywhere can become the paradigmatic case of a broader experiment in mobile citizenship that Europe is making on a growing scale. The Republic of Venice has over the centuries always been open to multiple form of citizenship, both formal and substantial. We hope it can become again a laboratory for new forms of democratic participation.
Massimo Warglien is professor at the Department of Management of Ca’ Foscari University Venice and coordinator of the Venywhere project.