When imagining a typical telecommuter, many people think of a city resident tapping away on a laptop in a trendy coffee shop, or perhaps a suburban mom or dad working from a home office while the children are at school.
While both of those images can be accurate, they ignore another kind of remote employee: the resident of a rural area who wants to work for a big-city company while enjoying a small-town lifestyle.
The great thing about this latter category of telecommuting is that it not only provides a boost to companies and workers, but also to the communities in which those rural workers live.
Many rural economies are facing tough times right now. Small communities struggle to keep a solid base of businesses that can offer jobs for their residents—especially young people who may want to work in technology or similar industries that tend to be more focused in urban areas.
A lack of working people in a rural area means fewer people have money to spend on local small businesses, which makes it hard for those businesses to survive. When they are forced to close, even fewer jobs are available, making the problem worse.
However, by hiring remote workers in those small, rural communities, a business can gain the advantage of expanding its recruiting pool to the entire nation, or indeed to much of the world. Those workers’ communities then include residents who can live where they want to live while earning a good wage and plowing their income back into local businesses, thus boosting the economy in general.
In addition to creating jobs for rural residents who are unemployed, remote work can also help people who are underemployed. It’s common to find people who leave their hometowns to go to college, but then return to rural areas because they want to be close to extended family. Such people frequently take lower-paying jobs outside of their areas of expertise, sacrificing earning power to live their chosen lifestyle.
However, many individuals and organizations are starting to tout the benefits of rural remote work plans that could help to resolve many of these problems. For example, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, whose California district includes the Apple, Google, and Facebook headquarters, recently toured eastern Kentucky to see whether “coal country” residents would be interested in learning to write computer code.
What he found during his trip was an area with tremendous potential.
“Khanna envisions a world in which tech companies like Google, Apple, and Salesforce regularly hire developer talent in Appalachian states,” the Nextgov article says. “The internet has made it easier to work remotely, and advances in virtual reality could soon allow people to work on manufacturing projects across the country, he said. It’s happening gradually, but Khanna said both the public and private sectors need to invest more directly in such programs by creating paid internship and apprenticeship programs to train new potential employees.”
In Maine, 1 Million for Work Flexibility coalition member Work in Place is specifically aimed at growing the state’s economy through remote work. And New Hampshire recently enacted a law that protects workers who ask for flexibility, in an effort to encourage workers to stay put in the state, or to move there.
Montana is already home to many remote workers who love the ability to hold the kinds of jobs they want while enjoying more time with family and access to outdoor activities.
According to an article from Arrow Solutions Group, “Managers who work remotely are increasingly pressing their home offices to expand their companies’ presence in Montana into a branch sales, consulting, or development office, tapping a pool of local talent that is eager to combine the Montana lifestyle with a satisfying career.”
This kind of model could work well for many companies, especially those in the technology industry. As noted by an article on Monster, many of these businesses need workers who can focus on coding, and communication tools that are widely available make the locations in which they work less important than what they produce.
“For employees who can’t afford to be distracted a number of times a day, having a controlled environment can be key to their productivity,” the article says. “Working from home can allow workers to minimize distractions and increase the time they spend focused on a project. It stands to reason that, in the end, companies benefit from these remote employees by getting projects completed faster with fewer mistakes.”
Whether they’re looking for tech workers or other employees, managers or front-line workers, companies are likely to find outstanding candidates in rural areas. With a focus on flexibility and telecommuting, such businesses will be able to strengthen their teams while simultaneously boosting rural economies.
As is so often the case with flex work, everybody wins. And that makes it a policy worth pursuing, regardless of the location of a company and its workers.
Have you seen similar remote working benefits in rural areas? In what other ways can telecommuting help boost such economies? Please share your ideas in the comments section.
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