The pandemic has seen Italy jumping on the remote working trend, known as lavoro agile or ‘smart working‘ in Italian.
Remote work was rare in Italy before lockdown restrictions forced many companies to change how they do business, with just a few thousand people working from home at the end of 2019.
Since this mode of working has “exploded”, according to a recent study, thousands of villages across Italy have taken it as an opportunity to attract remote workers and reverse the trend of declining populations.
This shift in Italian working culture hasn’t gone unnoticed.
A new initiative called Startup Villages has been launched to promote villages in Italy as an ideal destination for startups and encourage “reverse migration”.
Noting that the “pandemic has proved remote work is possible” and that “villages across the globe are struggling to retain residents”, some entrepreneurs have gathered to take advantage of the possibility to relocate to Italy’s depopulated villages.
The organisation’s founder, Dr. Tausuf Malik, noted that some of the financial incentives worked – but didn’t boost the towns’ economies as hoped.
“Many people bought and refurbished the homes they purchased in these Italian villages, but guess what, the majority of them were holidays homes and this didn’t trigger economic activity,” he said.
Seeing an opportunity, Malik worked with business partners to pitch the idea to mayors of towns across Italy, focusing on startup development instead of attracting holidaymakers with the €1 house deals.
Malik’s Italian colleague Dr. Stefan Valente said, “Our villages are our heritage and pride, and through this programme, we would take our villages into the future with sustainable & holistic development.”
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One issue in these locations is often internet connection. Before the pandemic, Italy wasn’t well known for its digital agility, and many people who move to the country noted the widespread internet connectivity problems.
However, some Italian towns are seeking to improve that and are also offering financial help to those willing to move in and set up as remote workers.
This latest initiative plans to take it one step further by creating “a sustainable ecosystem and environment for the economic development of the villages in Italy”.
The aim is to “create unique startups and take Italy to the next level – and achieve what Silicon Valley did to the American Startup ecosystem,” the organisation stated.
For now, agreements are being reached with towns, with a summit scheduled next year.
Meanwhile, thousands of individual Italian villages are already making their own plans to increase wifi provision and enable people to move there for work.
Here are some of them.
The southern region of Calabria has an increasing amount of emptying villages that the authorities want to revitalise, offering up to a substantial €28,000 to those willing to move there.
There are nine villages on the list in total – four are located in the north of the province of Cosenza. They include Aieta, Albidona, Civita and San Donato di Ninea.
Three further villages are in the province of Reggio Calabria: Bova, Samo and Sant’Agata del Bianco, with the final two municipalities in the province of Crotone – Caccuri and Santa Severina.
Naturally, there are terms and conditions to the deal – which varies among the villages participating in these schemes across Italy.
In the case of these nine villages in Calabria, the small print is that you must be under 40 years old and willing to start a small business there.
There’s also a timeline – if your application is approved, you must be willing to move there within 90 days.
Gianluca Gallo, Calabria’s councillor for agriculture, said in an interview that the funds could either be given in the form of a monthly salary or as a lump sum if the business required it.
“So far we’ve had great interest and hopefully, if this first plan works, more villages will follow in the next few years,” he stated.
Santa Fiora in the Maremma area, is often described as the first ‘smart working village’ by Italian media.
It currently has around 2,500 residents and is still offering up to €200 or 50% of the average monthly rent for long-term stays, in a bid to counter its declining population.
The town council has launched a website to help would-be residents find their ideal home and you’ll have to prove that you’re actually going to work there, not just use it as a holiday base.
The village says it’s ready to accept newcomers to carry out their jobs remotely, with newly installed high-speed fibre. Details on how to apply can be found here.
And this entry is likely to raise a few eyebrows in interest – Montepulciano, in the province of Siena, known for its breathtaking views and superb wine, is also a smart working hub.
It was the founding location of a startup called Smartway, which was set up to help remote workers find an Italian town to base themselves and live out the ‘dolce vita‘ remote working dream.
Latronico in the province of Potenza is nicknamed ‘the city of well-being’ thanks to its clean air and many green areas.
Mayor Fausto De Maria’s offer to smart workers exploits exactly that advantage.
“Do you live in a city and will you be doing smart work? Then why don’t you come and live in our Latronico during these months!” he wrote on Facebook.
“Lots of greenery, clean air, and lots of good things. Houses for rent and/or sale can also be found on our municipality’s website,” he added.
The town of Castropignano is one of thousands taking part in the €1 house scheme, on offer to smart workers and foreign tourists.
Abandoned houses in the historic centre are on sale for the symbolic price of €1, as long as you commit to renovate the property.
Although the municipality may be using the ‘smart working’ keyword to help sell these old properties, as no further details are given to help those who specifically move there to work remotely.
You can find out more about the scheme here.
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Rieti near Rome offers a smart working village much less remote than thousands of other options.
It currently has around 50,000 inhabitants, but the population has stopped growing and the council wants to reinvigorate its prospects.
The municipality is offering people help with property rent and can be extended beyond the initial six months offer.
If you’re a freelancer, you simply need to describe your work. Or if you have an employer willing to let you relocate and move to Italy to do your work from there, you’ll need a letter to prove it.
You can find out more and how to apply here.
As more and more towns are offering schemes to attract remote workers – and with international investors now setting their sights on Italy for smart working development – will Italy be ready?
Although infrastructure still needs to be put in place, the government has made plans to increase the amount of high speed fibre throughout the country, in line with the European Union’s goal to rollout fast internet to some 202 million homes across the bloc.
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