In an effort to maintain distances between people and stem the spread of the coronavirus, a big chunk of America’s workforce began working at home. Here in Powell, public meetings were held on …
In an effort to maintain distances between people and stem the spread of the coronavirus, a big chunk of America’s workforce began working at home. Here in Powell, public meetings were held on Zoom teleconferencing software. Northwest College and local school districts managed to transform all of their courses, with a couple exceptions, to an online format.
While there have been inconveniences, glitches and learning curves, it’s all worked relatively well. Teleconferencing is nothing new, but the pandemic normalized the practice and forced people to become more familiar with it.
Before the pandemic, only about 3.6% of Americans worked at home half-time or more, according to Workplace Analytics, a workplace research company. It estimates that 56% of the U.S. workforce has a job that is at least partially compatible with remote work and that as much as 30% of the nation’s workforce will be working at home on multiple days per week by the end of 2021. Some big tech companies, such as Twitter, say they’re going to continue having their employees work from home well into next year. Many industries, as well as educational institutions, have discovered just how much can be done online.
This may present an opportunity for Powell and other small communities that face the ongoing problem of losing high school graduates to bigger cities where economic opportunities are greater — as well as the problem some local businesses face trying to recruit workers. Cities have been growing as rural populations bleed away, and part of the reason is so many jobs are found in metropolitan communities. If there’s more opportunities for telework, that may lessen the draw.
Even before the pandemic, cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York were losing residents. High rents, high taxes and strict regulatory environments have sent people and businesses fleeing for places less hostile to people trying to earn a living. While most of those migrants are just moving to other, business-friendly cities, the pandemic showed another downside to city life. Their high population densities led to much higher rates of coronavirus cases and, thus, the need for stronger “shelter-in-place” orders.
It’s possible rural towns will become more attractive places to start businesses and raise healthy families. If there’s more opportunity to work remotely or start home businesses, finding jobs in small towns won’t be such a challenge. This will also mean there’ll be more opportunities for high school graduates to start careers in the towns they grew up in.
Powell has an extensive fiber network that offers just about everyone in town broadband service — something that’s missing in a lot of rural towns. It’s hard to say how much telework will grow opportunities in rural areas, but sitting in business-friendly Wyoming and having the network to support broadband access, Powell is well-positioned to offer a better life to city folk looking for a change.