As the struggle for survival in rural communities has intensified, the idea of rural teleworkers is gaining steam. Not only is access to essential services often limited, finding sustainable employment with a living wage is trying at best in rural areas.

For today’s youngest generation of workers who have been surrounded with technology since birth, the rural communities where they grew up present them with minimal opportunities to thrive. For this generation, securing work within popular tech industries or smaller niche industries often means relocating to urban areas.

Unfortunately, this creates a cycle of problems. There are less people working or people are underemployed – making less money – in rural areas, resulting in less money available to support local businesses, which unfortunately results in the creation of even fewer jobs.

 

Changing the cycle

This doesn’t need to be the case. “By hiring remote workers in those small, rural communities, a business gains the advantage of expanding its recruiting pool to the entire nation, or indeed to much of the world,” writes Greg Kratz in this 1 Million for Work Flexibility post. “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.”

According to this Nextgov post by Mohana Ravindranath, US House Rep. Ro Khanna from California, envisions a world in which tech companies like Google, Apple and Salesforce could regularly hire developer talent in Appalachian states. “Kentucky and many other Appalachian states, stalwarts of the American coal industry, are seeing jobs rapidly disappear, in part because of advances in energy technology and automation.”

However, based on findings from his visit, Khanna told Nextgov that Appalachian residents are eager to build new skills and tech companies are often happy to hire them. Understandably, as these organizations consider embracing Khanna’s initiative to boost flex work within rural environments, it will be technologies like video conferencing that essentially serve as the enabler.

After all, with a solid solution in place, these remote workers have the ability to fully assimilate into a team including taking part in face-to-face meetings and regular collaborative exchanges necessary to build trust and establish camaraderie.

 

Meaningful change

While there are true socioeconomic benefits associated with increased employment, a meaningful boost in rural flex work could have an additional “big picture” impact on resident health as well.

For instance, offering a new avenue to viable employment could prove instrumental in helping those within the Appalachian region where the ongoing opioid epidemic has significantly stunted forward progress as communities struggle to overcome job losses.

These areas desperately need new opportunities if they have any hope of breaking the cycle. Rural areas such as the Appalachian region tend to rely disproportionately on economies consisting mostly of jobs involving manual labor, such as agriculture and coal-mining – all physically intense jobs that cause chronic pain. These factors combined with the more liberal opioid prescribing practices that began in the 1990s have created the perfect storm for opioid abuse in Appalachia and other rural areas.

 

Bottom line: there is an entire generation – and geography – of untapped potential within rural communities – just waiting to shine. Of course, change needs to start with a few progressive organizations willing to recognize the potential and offer growth opportunities.

Are there businesses in your community reaching out to embrace telework in rural communities? Tell us your story, and we may feature it on WorkSpace Today.