Next Avenue: Cities and states are putting out the welcome mat for remote workers
Fed up with living in an expensive city or community? Eager to bring your stress level down? Interested in working hours you prefer and from your home? That may sound like a TV infomercial, but the fact is: working remotely in a low-cost area is becoming easier at a time when it’s also becoming more appealing.
New programs in Tulsa, Okla. and Vermont have been rolling out to lure new residents who’d work from there remotely. Also, new and growing websites are helping people find jobs where they can work from home, wherever that may be.
“We’ve really reached a tipping point when it comes to remote jobs,” said Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of the job boards FlexJobs and Remote.co. “Advances in technology such as high-speed internet and Wi-Fi over the last 10 to 15 years definitely make it easier to work outside of the office. And more people are knowledge workers, meaning that they work with ideas and information, rather than with machinery. The knowledge economy naturally supports jobs that can be done from home.”
The surge in working remotely
According to a recent report by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs, remote work has grown 159% since 2005 and risen 44% over the last five years. These days, according to Gallup, 43% of employees work remotely in some capacity, up from 39% in 2012.
In a tight labor market like the one we’re in, offering workplace flexibility through remote work is one way that employers can retain and attract skilled workers. Plus, there’s the bottom-line payback: By letting more workers work from home, businesses and nonprofits can reduce the cost of office space and equipment and see productivity improvements.
“Companies who want to keep talent are accommodating them. It’s a tight job market and companies can’t find talent within driving distance to their office,” said Sharon Emek, president & CEO of WAHVE (Work at Home Vintage Experts).
Cities and states luring remote workers
Some cities and states are also finding the appeal of remote work (plus new initiatives offering cash grants) entices people of all ages to move there. FlexJobs is partnering with economic development groups in Kentucky, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas and Florida to help residents get remote jobs.
Last year, Tulsa rolled out its Tulsa Remote initiative to lure new residents by offering them $10,000 grants for a year to work from there remotely, plus other benefits.
Tulsa Remote provides co-working space for the year at 36 Degrees North, Tulsa’s base camp for entrepreneurs, and offers monthly meetups and workshops to develop skills and strategies for working remotely effectively. Program participants also have the option of living in a new, fully furnished apartment for a discounted rent, plus free utilities for the first three months.
Backed by the Tulsa-based nonprofit George Kaiser Family Foundation, the goal is to bring in people who’ll stick around, get involved in the community, strengthen the local economy and maybe ultimately launch businesses locally.
Tulsa Remote received nearly 1,000 applications the first day it opened last year and capped the total at 10,000, a number the program received within 10 weeks. It will begin taking applications for 2020 in the fall.
This year, Vermont launched a Remote Worker Grant Program paying about 100 people $10,000 each over two years to cover expenses for moving to the state and working remotely. Qualifying expenses include the cost of relocation, computer software or hardware, broadband access or upgrade and membership in a co-working or similar space.
According to a recent CNBC article, the state has approved 56 remote worker applications, totaling 140 new residents, including families.
A bill introduced by neighboring Massachusetts Governor Charles D. Baker in late July includes a tax credit of up to $2,000 per employee for companies that support employees who work from home or remote locations ($50 million annually has been allocated for the credit).
“These initiatives are started for several reasons, including to bolster the local economies, bring jobs to rural or economically disadvantaged areas or in the case of new initiatives in Massachusetts, for example, the infrastructure and productivity problems caused by excessive commuter traffic,” Sutton says.
Remote work for techies in Nebraska
Sometimes, new remote-work opportunities come out of frustration, like April Goettle’s new website for Nebraskans, Remoter.tech. “Personal pain is a great motivator to find good solutions,” she says.
Goettle, 44, had been weary of driving three hours a day, five days a week from her home in Lyons, Neb. to her job as a website graphic designer in Omaha, 75 miles away. “I needed a tech job, and that is just the way it was,” she says. She wanted to work for a local company and be part of the Omaha tech boom.
When she began looking for Nebraska companies who’d hire rural workers looking for remote-work tech jobs, Goettle was shocked that none of the Omaha job boards offered such links.
So she created Remoter.tech, which launched this summer, and began a campaign to convince smaller startup tech firms in Omaha and surrounding rural areas to post open remote positions there. Remoter.tech aims to be a bulletin board for web designers, graphic designers, engineers, project managers, data analytic experts and content creators.
“My focus is on providing resources for people who are trying to have a lower cost of living and work/life balance in a small community and have good-paying jobs in the Omaha area,” Goettle says. “In the Midwest, and where I am from in Montana, communities are struggling to keep the population. On the other end of the spectrum, we have towns like Omaha struggling with their hiring needs. But it’s not a common practice to hire remote. It seemed to me like two problems that had a related solution.”
Goettle now works from home for her Omaha employer. She does, however, still make the trek into Omaha regularly, wrapping up a computer science degree in the IT Innovation Program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Sites to help you find remote work
If you’d like to find a job where you can work remotely, aside from the national sites mentioned in the article (Flexjobs.com, Remote.co and WAHVE, which lets professionals 50 work from home in insurance, accounting and human resources), there are Rat Race Rebellion, Working Nomads, We Work Remotely, Skip The Drive, Jobspresso and ZipRecruiter.