Technology, infrastructure and persistent urban sprawl have made living remotely an increasingly viable lifestyle option.
Less than a generation ago, the idea of “flex hours” was considered progressive business management. Now, remote work and hot-desking are standard work culture. Lightweight and wireless technology have kept us connected, and the Internet of Things has seeped into every aspect of life.
A work renaissance has emerged in step with the rise of remote living. Until recently, remote living was characterised as, essentially, suburban living, that uniquely Western, possibly American post-war construct that has been soundly debunked as an efficient way of life. The world is urbanising like never before, and the suburb is giving way to remote living, a lifestyle that provides respite from the costs and crowds of the city core without giving up any of its conveniences and services.
Hong Kong is a peculiar beast, unlike anything else on the globe. Two or three Apple stores or Chanel boutiques just a few minutes from each other is unfathomable anyplace in the world except Hong Kong. But several factors have made the SAR what it is, among them the lack of commutes as they are known in North America, Europe or Australia, a muted car culture and infrastructure that easily, and willingly, spreads out. School catchments aside, both Hongkongers and expatriates prefer living close to where they work, and more crucially both want homes surrounded by supermarkets, vets, dentists, banks, restaurants, shoe shops, fashion, transit connections and all the other conveniences of urban life.
The (ongoing) development of Hong Kong’s transit infrastructure has played a critical part in connecting the city’s far-flung New Territories to its core districts — effectively Tsim Sha Tsui, Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Eastern District alongside Central. A young, cosmopolitan workforce is forcing employers to shake up the way they do business (hence the rapid rise of co-working spaces) and rethink work-life balance. The quality of life a job allows is now a factor in accepting that job — and that has put remote living on many a Hongkongers’ radar. Increasingly, the “need” to head to a core business district has dwindled to just going for work. All those supermarkets, vets, dentists, banks, restaurants, shoe shops, fashion and transit connections can now be found in the SAR’s remote locations.
Quality of life also includes leisure, dining and shopping options — infrastructure that extends beyond water supplies and MTR stations. Restaurant groups are increasingly opening outlets in direct response to where people are living, and major retailers are following suit — in Yuen Long’s sparkling YOHO Mall, the sprawling Tuen Mun Town Plaza and Sha Tin’s trailblazing New Town Plaza among others. It has become unnecessary to travel when international eateries Iberico & Co, Beerliner and Urban Bakery nestle alongside local and Asian favourites. Previously Central-focused brands Nespresso, Bose, Log-On and Apple are opening beside Vivienne Westwood, Chanel and Michael Kors. No new mall would consider opening without an anchor such as Aeon, city'super, Taste or Marks & Spencer, all eagerly taking up spaces in remote locations. Hong Kong’s newest IMAX cinema is in YOHO, not Causeway Bay. Abercrombie & Fitch’s fatal error was its reliance on a single flagship store in Central, unlike Gap, which also opened shops in Tuen Mun and Sha Tin.
Major school expansions or openings in Tai Po (Harrow, Malvern, American School, Norwegian and Japanese International Schools), Lam Tin (Nord Anglia), Kowloon (Kellett, Australian International) and Sai Kung (Hong Kong Academy) have eased pressure on island-side school districts. Young couples and professionals alike take full advantage of efficient transit that whisks them to business hubs in 30 minutes, assuming a home office isn’t in the cards. Finally, stronger business ties with China that often demand travel make locations at Gold Coast and minutes from the airport at Tung Chung logical choices, especially taking into consideration Citygate’s expansion. Top it off with cleaner air and, often, more room to move and the advantages to living remotely begin to outweigh the (shrinking) distances involved.
Other factors are bolstering the remote living idea. Skyrocketing housing prices and rents that continue to creep up in core areas are making locations such as Sai Kung and Yuen Long more appealing, and families are taking advantage of broadening school networks.