Out of the Shell

Chris Burkmon says without an office, he’s had to build his social life from the ground up. He started with his next-door neighbors, a connection he says feels more meaningful and enduring than one with coworkers.

IT TOOK A MEMORABLE EXCHANGE IN A BAKERY FOR CHRIS BURKMON TO RECOGNIZE HIS POST-PANDEMIC LIFE IN MONTEREY WOULD BE DIFFERENT. A woman noticed his Kansas University shirt and soon the two alumni struck up a conversation.

“It was kind of weird, because we’re looking at each other like, should we exchange numbers? I don’t really know,” Burkmon says, who moved to Monterey with his husband in February. “Now, we’re texting and planning to hang out. This showed me and my husband that there is this kind of sense like, ‘Hey, I want to connect and I’m going to step outside my bubble and, I’m not trying to hit on you or be weird, but let’s hang out.’”

Burkmon, who works in clinical operations with San Francisco-based biotechnology company Genentech, was told mid-pandemic that his job would remain fully remote. With his husband a remote worker as well, the couple wanted to get out of the Bay Area and find a slower pace, attractive scenery and lower cost of living. They called a move to Monterey a “no-brainer.”

Ardently opposed to remote work at the start, Burkmon has since warmed up to his home desk. Life away from the office has allowed him to dress casually and skip the commuter traffic, but Burkmon says it has also removed the foundation of his social life. He says this was especially difficult in a new city.

“I build my community and my friendships off my work community. I’ve been missing that for over a year and I’m ready to socialize and make friends,” Burkmon says.

Even as pandemic restrictions to wane, remote work is poised to become a larger part of the new normal. Companies from Atlassian to Zillow, Facebook to Twitter, have announced new work-from-home policies that will allow more employees to go full or at least partially remote. A December 2020 report from the Pew Research Center shows 54 percent of employees working remotely because of the pandemic wanted to continue working from home when the pandemic subsided.

Much attention on this new remote workforce has focused on how an exodus of residents from high-cost-of-living job centers such as San Francisco and San Jose to areas like Monterey County has flipped the housing market on its head. The facts support this: according to the Monterey County Association of Realtors, the average sale price of a home in Monterey County reached an all-time high of $950,000 in April, with homes staying on the market for an average of only nine days.

However, another storyline is playing out, although anecdotally, around the social realities of this new, more transient work model.

Chris Nault and his girlfriend relocated to the county from San Francisco in December. Nault, who runs his own marketing agency in Florida, has worked remotely for years and knows the difficulty of moving to a new city without the social crutch of an office and local coworkers. He says working remotely has forced him to seek out social interaction in different places.

“Getting out and meeting people is a much higher priority now. Volunteering before might have been more selfless, but now I’m like, ‘Yes, of course I want to go do some good – and hopefully meet people with similar interests,’” Nault says.

Nault recently became the director of communications for Monterey Pride – a result, he says, of moving to a new city and having limited options for social interaction. Similarly, Burkmon is looking at volunteer opportunities at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, partly as a way to meet people who live in the region.

Julie Lucas, a designer with a Bay Area tech firm, has been working remotely since 2014. The Pacific Grove resident offers some wisdom for the new generation of remote workers: Remember to get away from your home office.

Nault agrees. “Community is still important, so find ways to connect with human beings, whether that’s through volunteering or other organizations,” he says. “Otherwise, you’ll find yourself living out weekends that are super quiet, and that starts to add up.”

Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

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