Gravenhurst pilot project for pandemic WFH professionals
Why work from home when you can work from anywhere? That’s the central question behind Mamalli, an innovative new pilot program offering two- and four-week ‘workations’ at resorts and cottages in Gravenhurst, the gateway to Muskoka.
The idea for this pop-up remote working experience comes from Toronto entrepreneur Tricia Jose (left), who used outside-the-box thinking to transform some of the problems created by the pandemic into a win-win opportunity.
Work from home shift
Stats Canada reports that 40 percent of workers shifted to working from home during the pandemic, a trend which late last year led Jose to survey 180 remote workers in tech around the world to better understand their perspectives and needs. She learned that their biggest challenge is not productivity—in fact, WFH has led to increased productivity—but rather the need for a change of scenery.
Meanwhile the hospitality and tourism industries have suffered tremendously as people have had to forego travelling and vacations. Jose put two and two together by framing the concept of travel in a safer and more enriching way. “How do we promote a different way of travel?” she recalls asking herself. “Not just consumption travel, not just speeding through, but living like a local, finding places people can connect with meaningfully?”
‘Workations’ in Gravenhurst
It was at that time that a friend introduced her to the Town of Gravenhurst. It struck Jose that Gravenhurst would be an ideal location to pilot Mamalli (which comes from the fond nickname for her mom), because of its proximity to reinvigorating nature, tourist infrastructure, and its high level of community engagement.
Jose credits Jeff Loney, the town’s manager of economic development who she met by chance, for the community engagement piece. “Partnering with Jeff and economic development has been amazing, because they understand the area better than I do,” she says. “My initial conversations were brokered by way of introduction. Jeff knows who the players are, who they are connected with. Having someone trusted to mediate a relationship is a great way to start.”
In addition to the Town of Gravenhurst and the Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce, Mamalli has partnered with accommodation providers Residence Inn, Lakeside Cottages, Muskoka Bay Resort and Vacation Time Muskoka.
How Mamalli Works
This is not like a retreat, says Jose. There is no itinerary or set schedule, making it easier for people to bring their families (and in certain cases, pets). You essentially go about your life, but in a new environment. And during your downtime and at the end of the day, instead of migrating to the couch or kitchen, you can walk in the woods or by the lake. The goal is not to interrupt productivity, but to enrich it; to “re-energize, re-connect and re-imagine.”
Mamalli is a pilot project with just 50 vacancies, half of which have been filled as of publication time. Pick-your-experience packages include accommodation, cleaning and amenities. It being a work-focused experience, high speed internet is a must. And they have accounted for pandemic realities with full cancellation refunds and cleaning and distancing protocols to keep everyone safe. Two-week stays start at $1,750, a price point that Jose notes is significantly lower than the nightly rate if you were coming for a shorter stay.
So far, Jose says she has had a lot of interest from those in the GTA working remotely, many of whom are in the tech industry. Demographically and with regard to their Muskoka experience, she says there’s a variety. Some are avid Muskoka people, some are checking it out with an eye to moving here full time, and still others have never been here before.
“I see this as an experiment forced upon us by the pandemic,” she says. “The intention is to take this pilot and see how we can tweak it and learn from it.”
Depending on what they learn, they plan to relaunch this summer or early fall. Visit their website at https://www.mamalli.com/ to learn more.