Lockdown blues? Trendy small towns are spearheading remote work revolution

Since the early 2000s remote working has exploded globally. So much so that by the end of 2019 fewer than 50% of companies worldwide did not allow remote working of some kind. This opened the door for individuals to increasingly own and shape their own work life and have the flexibility and freedom they wanted.

Transformation of the work environment
Just like the movie industry was transformed from a model where actors and actresses were employed by movie studios in the early 20th century to what it is today, so the same is happening with “work life” at the beginning of the 21st century. More and more people turn away from the traditional model of working in a full-time salaried environment to the more secure and often better-paying “remote work” environment where they do not rely on one company or organisation for their income.

Benefits for small towns
This is good news for smaller towns. It means that people can choose to live where they want while continuing their work life. Even before the current pandemic there was a growing movement away from large cities to working in small town environments as a result. This has become bigger than just a youthful “digital nomad” environment. It has become a normal work-life option. In fact, by 2018 the annual growth in new companies that solely recruit remote workers and have no physical headquarters because everybody works remotely, was more than 44% (USA figures, but indicative of a global trend)!

Not everybody wanting to have the freedom and flexibility of working remotely wants to travel, although many do. Not everybody who prefers to work remotely wants to stay in the cities. In fact, there is a trend of people moving away from what used to be the main attraction – large urban areas. Somehow, in many cases, those environments are less “remote work friendly.”

Digital highway
As the New Zealand government rolls out “fast rural broadband” across the country, the towns that suddenly find themselves part of the “digital highway” have opportunities they never had before. People living and working in those towns have exciting new horizons they can explore. But few towns make the newly found possibility a part of the local infrastructure development or a significant part of future growth plans. Yet, it will stimulate growth in the same way as a new or improved road.

“Live local and work global” has never quite offered as much value as it does now, and for once small towns are in line to benefit most.

As the global trend of working remotely accelerates, small towns have unique opportunities to set themselves up as desired destinations for those who are working remotely, whether as a part of their “slow travel” lifestyle while they work remotely, or as a permanent destination. We see it already on a bigger scale, where large companies move away from Silicon Valley to less populated areas (like Tesla moving to Texas). But it is a pervasive trend globally for all sizes of companies, especially those who rely on good internet connectivity.

Here is the point: Every small town can position themselves to be part of this digital highway and use that as a local growth strategy. There are ways to make your town a preferred destination for those that travel on the digital highway daily. “Live local and work global” has never quite offered as much value as it does now, and for once small towns are in line to benefit most.

Benefits for businesses and individuals
This also provides new opportunities for businesses in small towns. Not only can they overcome the constraints of small local markets, they can also have access to scarce talent to develop their businesses in areas they struggled to do in the past due to lack of available talent.
The biggest opportunity is for individuals transforming their lives using the intersection of good internet access in small towns and the growing trend in remote working that has a strong element of moving away from large urban centres. There are also other benefits that accelerate this and create a perfect environment to own and shape a work life future that you could only have dreamed of before.

Growing trends
There are just so many strong and growing trends that intersect, that it is almost mind boggling:
1. Better internet connectivity in small towns
2. Remote working becomes mainstream and even the preferred way to work
3. More and more companies are fully “remote” and others are rethinking having expensive office space in larger urban areas
4. The nature of work is increasingly shifting from a full time salaried environment to a “gig economy” where the individual owns and shapes their own future and works on multiple initiatives simultaneously instead of working for only one company (just like the movie industry shifted from an employment to an agency model in the first half of the 20th century)

Tips for the best transition
People who want to make this transition need to take note of a few things. The most important thing is that, while it is a good first step, just arranging for your current (what used to be an office) job to become “remote” is possibly the worst longer term option.
The biggest reason is that managers of those are used to “office management practice.” They do not know how to manage remote workers as well as those present in the office, how to integrate them with the office workforce, and how to not overlook them for promotion!

From this perspective there are three clusters of companies in this new world:
1. Those that allow remote work
2. Those that prefer remote work
3. Those that only recruit remotely

You may start in the first cluster, because those are the kind of companies you know best, and it may be the first step in your transition to a remote working career. But studies show that in the long term people who opt to work remotely in these kinds of companies miss out on salary increases as well as promotion opportunities, mainly because of an “out of sight, out of mind” dynamic where managers and operations are not optimised for remote working.

The pandemic made this growing work environment more visible.
You want to progress via the second cluster to the third cluster, because there you have all the benefits of remote work and none of the drawbacks. Why not just start with the third cluster? Ideally that would be best, but it is a very competitive market to get into and they often have very sophisticated recruitment processes (remember that they can choose from the best globally, they are not constrained geographically). So it often takes some footwork and focused career development to get into this cluster.

The gig economy
The argument thus far still looks pretty much like “finding a job.” It does not take into account the “gig economy,” the growth and maturing of online freelancing or starting online digital businesses as an alternative to “having a job.”

This is the next exciting layer of opportunities available now to individuals to build a life where their work is not defined by a “job” or “job requirements.” Rather, they decide how they want to live and then create a working life that make that life possible. A complete mind-shift.

The most secure work environment
There is one more aspect about remote working that has exploded even before the current pandemic, but much more so since – working and earning online. Recently it became the most secure work environment. In fact, those who already worked online felt the impact of the pandemic the least! Because they have already taken ownership of their future work life and do not over-depend on any one company or organisation.

However, the pandemic just made this growing work environment more visible and showcased its benefits. In reality it has grown at an accelerated pace for almost two decades already.

How to become part of the fu ture of work
What does all of this mean? It means we live in exciting times where opportunity to live and work the way you want is becoming mainstream. Living your dream life is no longer a pipe dream, it is a distinct possibility for everybody, courtesy of (online) remote work. It also means that as this possibility became visible recently, it has become a very competitive environment. But there is a way to get into this exciting remote working world that is not risky and overcomes the competitive nature and high failure rate.

That is what we discuss in the free online webinar about remote work. Our focus is on the online remote working environment. If you want to be part of this new work environment that is without a doubt a major part of the “future of work,” then don’t miss out! Attend the webinar and learn how to get the benefits of an online remote working life for yourself, how to establish yourself as an “online earner,” be it starting your own online business, becoming an online freelancer, or starting your remote working journey so that you can end up working for the third cluster of companies recruiting remotely.

Media Release on 1 March 2021

Media Contact
Mariana van der Walt, New Zealand Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship
Email: remotenz@smalltownfutures.com
Phone: 027 423 7345
Website: https://smalltownfutures.com/remoteworkwebinar
Video: https://youtu.be/Ywryoan-z98