The Gers department in the south-west of France is not only known for its sumptuous cuisine, but is something of a pioneer where telecommuting is concerned. Since 2008, Soho Solo has been helping freelancers and teleworkers from other areas of France and overseas settle in the area. Set up by the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the aim of the scheme is to boost the local economy by attracting professionals from different fields (digital, communications, translators, the arts). How? By helping them settle in and offering support and connectivity.
Nestled between the Atlantic and the Pyrenees, Gers is a pleasant place to live. And yet, recent years have seen a mass exodus from the area. So the Chamber of Commerce decided to do something about it: Audrey Fievet, Head of Economic Development at the Gers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, explains:
“The villages were being abandoned. We had to find people who wanted to come and live in the country. So we thought: why not target freelance workers?”
And that’s how the Soho Solo (Small Office, Home Office) project, an innovative programme to assist remote workers, came about. In addition to providing information, induction and assistance with setting up their business, the Chamber has also set up various infrastructures to facilitate teleworking for the incomers.
aDSL, REMOTE WORKING centres AND coworking SPACES
The essential prerequisite is of course broadband internet: 94% of the 6,257 km² of the Gers now has ADSL, funded by the local and regional authorities. For the more remote villages located too far away from the telecommunication centres for network coverage, a Wi-Fi project is underway.
Eight remote working centres have also been set up all over the department featuring fully-equipped offices with free internet access where freelancers can hold meetings or receive clients. Alternatively, teleworkers looking for a more permanent venue can lease an office at one of the two co-working spaces.
In order to create synergies and avoid the isolation often associated with freelancing and remote working, the Club Soho Solo holds monthly meetings to bring together the community so they can meet up and network. An extranet is also available with an internal directory and a newsletter.
A total of 47 “host” villages and 31 associate villages are involved in the Soho Solo scheme and as such have pledged to offer the best conditions for welcoming remote workers and helping them settle in.
70% OF “Soho SOlo” PROFESSIONALS WORK IN THE DIGITAL ECONOMY
Most of the teleworkers in Gers are freelancers or entrepreneurs who receive support and advice from the Chamber of Commerce. But there are also some salaried works who have managed to convince their employers to let them relocate and work from home. This involves amending their employment contract to include specific information about their status as a remote worker in Gers.
Since the scheme was launched, over 200 “Soho Solo” workers have relocated to Gers with their families, bringing a total of 500 new residents who will help boost the local economy. The incomers, meanwhile, can say goodbye to pollution peaks, daily commutes and sky-high property prices: having left the metropolis, they can enjoy a better quality of life – something which wouldn’t be possible without digital!
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Photo credit: Shereen M – Day 88 | June 28 2008 | Yay! / Flickr.com / Licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0