N.S. recruiting Canadians to move to the province to work from home

by Kayla Hounsell

Like so many people these days, Ian Yule is working from home, but his home has changed. For 14 years he’s been a product engineer for a company that makes software for computerized mapping in California. Now he’s doing the same job in Nova Scotia.

“It’s different, but there’s definitely a quality of life here that probably a lot of people don’t realize is as high as it is,” he said from his newly rented apartment in Kentville, N.S.

A recognition of that quality of life is exactly what the Nova Scotia government is banking on.

Together with Tourism Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia Business Inc., the province’s economic development agency, it has launched a campaign targeting other Canadians to move to Nova Scotia. Tourism-style video ads showcase the province’s beaches and coastal beauty with the tagline, “If you can do your job from anywhere, do it from here.”

The campaign, which launched on Dec. 14, has been displayed in every other province and territory. The people behind it say it has been seen on 141 million computer screens so far, predominantly in Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City and Calgary.

The goal is to bring 15,000 people to Nova Scotia within one year.

Laurel Broten, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Business Inc., says the province is taking advantage of the silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, the understanding that you “don’t necessarily need to be sitting in an office to be productive,” and trying to attract skilled workers who couldn’t otherwise work from Nova Scotia.

She says population growth is a key component of economic growth and the province wants to expand its taxation base, have more people consuming goods, going to restaurants and buying houses.

“Bring your job and come here to Nova Scotia and do that job from here sitting on the edge of the ocean, if you want,” she said in an interview in her downtown Halifax office.

Broten, who moved to Nova Scotia herself in 2013, isn’t working from home because low COVID-19 numbers in the province mean many businesses and offices are open. There are currently only eight cases in the entire province.

The future of work

Still, John Trougakos, professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at the University of Toronto, calls the government’s plan “ambitious.”

Trougakos has studied the future of work and says the key to Nova Scotia’s success might be whether the idea of working from home becomes permanent. Despite some data that suggests it will, Trougakos is not convinced.

“I think we’re kind of getting to the point where there is a level of fatigue with this working from home,” he said. “I see a hybrid work system kind of being the way of the future where employees will go in two or three days to the office and have two or three days at home.”

Potential problems

The pandemic has also exposed problems with reliable internet connections in parts of rural Nova Scotia, which could be a problem for those trying to work from home. Broten said the province is working on developing infrastructure with a goal of 99 per cent coverage by 2022.

Others have raised concerns about what could happen if the plan does work; how an influx of people could affect things such as affordable housing and a shortage of doctors.

Yule, who has been in the province since September, said he struggled to find an apartment, and still hasn’t found a doctor, but he generally supports the idea of trying to grow the population, as long as it’s done with careful planning and consideration.

“It’s like a provincial gentrification in a way, that you might see, and there are negative sides to gentrification that we need to be ready for.”

He said he thinks he’ll work from home in Nova Scotia for at least two years. He already knows he has the option of making it a permanent move if he so chooses.

Broten said it’s OK if he and others who might move to Nova Scotia don’t stay forever, and that attracting highly skilled people, even for a short time, is better than not at all.