In Remote Dubois, a Quiet Revolution

From guest author Lois Wingerson

RodeoGrounds4This is a story of loss, and the signs of renewal.

In the late 1980s, the last sawmill in Dubois, Wyoming, closed, plunging the town into economic crisis. (In this image, the site as it looks today.)

Possibly that same year–I’ve lost track of the exact date–we came with our toddler son to a dude ranch near Dubois, to enjoy a getaway from two stressful jobs in the big city.

That was back when Bernard and Leota Didier owned the Lazy L&B, two owners and most of a lifetime ago.

LazyL&BHorses

I was awestruck by vistas I had never imagined, let alone seen. I focused on trying to stay mounted on my horse, having never ridden before, while the wranglers loped easily over the endless range ahead.

A tourist enjoying a brief getaway, I had no idea about what was happening in the town nearby. Nor, at the time, did I care.

Dubois had thrived on logging since the turn of the last century, and the tie hacks hewed railroad ties for the transport network that was uniting the country (although the railroad itself never came near Dubois). Now, the industry had abandoned the town, due to a change in logging policy at the US Forest Service and economic realities that eroded its profit.

LazyLB_editedDubois quickly set about trying to re-invent itself. The town sponsored several community projects, hiring consultants who led self-examinations and assessments of the town’s potential.

My favorite of these assessments was a freelance project. In 1992–exactly a quarter-century ago–an economics professor named John Murdock, who had retired to Dubois, completed an independent analysis of how the town might recover from its devastating loss.

He considered the potential of minerals, oil, and gas (virtually none in that region) and small manufacturing (nil, because of the distance to market).

Murdock concluded that the town’s only hope for economic revival was two sources who would arrive bringing their own income: (1) retirees and (2) people who would work here remotely, using the Internet.

The Internet didn’t yet really exist. This was two years before the creation of the World Wide Web Consortium that would set international standards so that computers on different systems could share information.

CemeteryView1_042917

Dubois waited. Retirees always arrived, but predictably, some would leave to be closer to family and others due to failing health.

In the meantime, its lifeline was tourism. The goal has been to attract people like us who wanted a brief escape from “civilization,” and to entice part of the horde bound for Yellowstone to stop here long enough to experience Dubois’ unique, enchanting qualities.

The problem with tourism (which is now the second largest industry in Wyoming) is that it can’t form the basis of a year-round economy in a location like Dubois. In the periods between the snow and the summer, the revenue stops.

We were far away as all this was evolving, and I was experiencing industrial challenges of my own, as publishing began to shift to the Internet. I had to learn how to code content for CD-ROMs meant to be read on a computer. Then I was hired to manage a “webzine” about science. I ran an online news service, and had to learn more coding. Later, I helped create a search engine.

My team was based in New York and London. We communicated by email and video conference. At my last job, my boss was based in Denver, with my coworkers in Baltimore, Boston, and San Francisco.

The writing was on the wall–as was a poster of the image below, which I had taken years earlier at the Lazy L&B and moved from office to office. Sometimes, looking up from the screen, I would rest my thoughts on Dubois.

Luckily, my last employer was unconcerned about where I was located while I worked. Eventually, when the time was right for us, Dubois called us back.

LazyLBDrawAs we returned, the old sawmill site was being transformed. The EPA now cites it as a case study of environmental remediation.

Cleaned up with help from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the location now houses a medical clinic, a fitness center, and an assisted living facility. A fishing pond for children should be completed soon.

In my absence, Dubois had been laying the tracks for a new kind of transcontinental network: high-speed Internet. I quickly learned that it was more reliable in Dubois than in the city, where I often had to close my laptop and reboot in a library or cafe when my signal suddenly went down.

When we first moved to Dubois, I met a few other individuals who were making their living here on the Internet. Gradually I met others, but I don’t know them all by any means.

I have encountered several other telecommuters–a computer coder, a software architect, and a marketing expert–who have newly relocated to the area. All of them chose Dubois in order to enjoy Nature and solitude while earning a good living at their keyboards. Two of them have children they don’t want to raise anywhere near a city.

DTECoils2The economy that Murdock foresaw 25 years ago is in its birth pangs at this very moment. According to a recent report in Forbes, about 40% of employees are now working “remotely” most or all of the time. About 80-90% of employees surveyed say they would like to work from home.

On Twitter, I’ve discovered a thriving separate industry of “remote workers” complete with vendors of supplies and services, support networks, employment recruiters, and professional conferences. A recent article on a jobs site for telecommuters predicts that the new industry will boost employment in rural areas.

Some high-skilled technology workers who work as consultants describe themselves as “digital nomads.” They migrate from one exotic location to another, wherever there is good broadband, enjoying a combination of travel and work as their day-to-day lifestyle. There are travel agents who specialize in serving this market.

The cost of commercial real estate, combined with the exploding cost of living in major cities and long commute times to affordable areas, makes it Downtown3almost impractical to insist that employees who work largely online must come in to an office–especially if the best candidate for an online job doesn’t live anywhere nearby.

Many employees want to live in urban areas anyway. But surely some want to be in a place like Dubois, for exactly the reasons we love it: It’s small, it’s isolated, it’s placid.

The new year-round economic base of Dubois is emerging slowly, one by one and two by two. Like Dubois itself, it is clean, quiet, and tucked away in the wilderness.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Remote Work Makes Your Business Disaster Safe

Do you know someone who had to evacuate because of the hurricanes Harvey or Irma these days? Or someone without power after the earthquake in Mexico yesterday?

It is important that we think about their lives and their belongings first. I hope that everyone is doing well and that Irma hits Florida not as hard as supposed.

But after that start thinking about their businesses. Natural disasters have an huge impact on the economy. Not only because of the destruction of buildings and infrastructure, especially because of the missing employees through evacuations.

If your are relocated for the arriving hurricane and your company allows remote work, you will be able to work anyhow.

Is your business located in the disaster zone? Can the work of your company done from anywhere over the internet? Then you are well prepared if you have already implemented remote work possibilities at your company.

These disasters can also be snowstorms, earthquakes, floodings, bush fires, power outages, construction work on imporant infrastructure or even a flu outbreak like actually in parts of Australia.

So use remote work to be prepared for whatever comes. See all the other benefits in my post ‘The Ultimate List of Remote Work Pros and Cons‘.

Please tell us the story of your company in the comment section! Which disaster was handled by your company in a good way – and which in a bad way?

Find Fendi

This post is the very actual problem we have in our family.

We 4 flew from Zürich over Hong Kong to Cairns in the last days and my 8yo. daughter lost her beloved little elephant ‘Fendi’ at our stop at Hong Kong International Airport. It is grey, laying, about 20cm long and from the trademark ‘Steiff’, so similar to the picture above.

To say something about location and timing: It is highest likely, that we lost him in the waiting area between Gate 22 and 24  under the seats near the windows in the time between 18:00 (6pm) and 19:45 at Tuesday the 8th of August. So every sighting after that time would be great! After that we waited again at Gate 49 till we boarded our next flight there.

We contacted already Cathay Pacific and the Lost&Found departement at Hong Kong IA, but they both didn’t find him.

Please share that story as much as possible, that we can bring back the elephant to our daugther. It really means very much to us! Hong Kong International is very well frequented, so it would be great to put this message especially to your travelling friends and everyone you know in Hong Kong.

Remote Work Creates a Fairer World

We all know the big inequality we have on earth. Your chances in life are highly different depending on your place of birth. Remote work will lower that on a large scale. Have a look how that will work out.

Birth Lottery

The biggest disadvantage on earth is based on the birth lottery. You have less possibilities in life, if you are born into a poor family. The education is worse, the motivation to go studying is less and the connections to good jobs are missing. That is common everywhere on earth and we know it from our western communities.

But the birth lottery is even worse at developing countries. If you are born in a rural area without internet access and maybe without electricity, the way to a middle class life is very, very hard. You have to start real work underaged, have to get kids in your twenties or earlier and cannot even think of university.

The good news is, that it is getting a little easier to improve your standard of life with every year. Electricity and internet are on the rise, i.e. with photovoltaic power generation, in every region on earth.

Remote Education

With the higher availability of the (hopefully neutral) internet comes the better access to education. Everyone who is a little self-motivated can receive free high level education, i.e. from Udacity or other MOOCs (massive open online courses) of high schools and even well-known universities.

This is a big chance for talented, young people in the developed and in the developing world. No matter if you are a young African software developer or a German mom and likes to restart your career without leaving your kids alone too long.

Well-paid Work

And then comes remote work! Because all the education doesn’t help without well-paid work. Electricity, internet, laptop and education are the only ingredients, what a motivated woman or man needs today to increase their standard of living fundamentally.

Take the example of tunga.io a remote startup run by a Dutch founder. They are working together with BITS ACADEMY with sections across Africa, which are training IT skills to students. Tunga tries to link these trained developers to worldwide software projects.

A little bit more on the side of entry level jobs is Sama Source from San Francisco. Their mission is to lift people out of poverty with remote jobs like data entry or data enrichment. If that all is working on a large scale, this will improve the life of whole communities, including better sanitation, increased health, less hunger and a reduced number of children in families (which slows overpopulation).

The possibly increased standard of living is the same for underprivileged people everywhere. A disabled person who can work on a computer but is not so mobile thrives with actual remote work options.

Better Than Development Aid

Nothing bad about good development aid! It saved an amazing number of lives and helps the people who are mostly unblamable for their situation. And it is old news that education is the key for helping developing regions. But a sustainable development starts only if there is enough work.

It is not the best solution for the local people, to bring them work through the big enterprises, with was common for production work in eastern Europe and China, moved through India and looks for its luck now in Indonesia and the Phillipines.

Much better for every country is, to enable a diverse and strong economy. This works not only with international teams, where workers of developing countries are part of the team, it works mostly through the huge number of better trained and experienced young people who will start new endeavours by their own. Remote work can be more sustainable than development aid in this way!

That all is not naturally given, so a stable, democratic political framework is important. An affordable, unrestricted access to an uncensored internet is crucial. A government, which thinks it is better to keep the people stupid, will not help itself in the long run, because a strong, independent economy is the better choice everytime.

Summing Up

Remote work creates exactly the opportunities, which were missing in the past. It gives well-paid work to so many disadvantaged groups of job seekers. Disabled, underprivileged, formerly undereducated, part-time, young mom, rural or remote living and relative caring people have much more possibilities these days. The worldwide inequality between poor and rich countries, between metropolitan and rural areas and between high and low educated people will be lowered dramatically by remote work!

Other opinions? Interesting additions? You know similar initiatives like the above mentioned? Please write that in the comments!

Want to be part of the movement? Want to do something good – better than development aid? Please contact me via the contact page.

Trust is the key for successful remote work

You can read a lot about the factors for remote work that actually succeeds. It is mostly about tools and technics, good remote management and the right setting at your working location. You can also read about that in my other blog posts, e.g. ‘How to prepare your company for remote workers‘ or ‘What a remote project manager needs to know‘.

But the most important point is trust!

Level of trust

I will explain the importance of trust with the help of the different levels of trust, which you can find at your corporate environment (Zero, medium or full trust). The trust is needed between employers and employees, contractors and customers, team members and project managers, so basically everyone, who is involved. It is important to note, that it is needed in both directions and everytime (not only in the good times).

Think about yourself. If you trust your boss, that he or she will treat you in a fair way and that your work is for a good purpose, you will do everything for him or her.

No trust at all

Without any trust on each side, you cannot work remotely. You cannot work in an office without trusting eachother either, but it stands out there not this fast.

I led many projects with well established trust between customers and my project teams. But there was a big one where the customer didn’t trusted us until the end of the project. This frustrated many team members and resulted in extra time and extra cost. The project has been fullfilled in this case, but this can cause project crashes with severe losses, particularly if it is a complete remote environment.

Medium trust

I think this is the common status in our corporate world. You can see it as a ‘more or less trust’, that your collegues and business partners are doing mostly a good job and are not trying to fool you. So the situation is not too bad, but most people have doubts about the work of others. This increases a lot if the workers are not colocated and includes the hords of middle managers, who still thinks they can only manage people if they see them permanently – which is however a flaw of their skills.

High portion of trust

This is the ideal situation for a successful business, project, team and remote work setting. If all participants are trusting each other deeply, you need less often and shorter discussions, you have less misunderstandings, less overhead in people and money and a much faster result – the normally needed short time-to-market.

What helps to create that:

  • give working packages with full responsibility to team members instead of small tasks
  • measure work results not worked hours
  • inform everyone about everything they need to know (better too much than not enough)
  • make decisions transparent
  • create a culture of liability
  • be fair and ethically correct
  • make sure that remotely working people get to know each other, even face-to-face if possible
  • organize off-work team activities, like outdoor events, cooking classes, attending concerts together
  • empower all participants to self-reliant and self dependent team members
  • a clear formulated business target including the general good is the best motivation

Traditional companies are often jealous of startups, because of their highly bonded, motivated teams, which are trusting each other very well (mostly). In this case it comes mainly from the companies purpose, every employee is identifying much with and rarely from morally great leaders.

While trust is needed in every work setting, it is very critical at remote work. So if you see a problem related to the remote work setting, please ask yourself if is not rather a trust problem!

Please let us know, if trust has for you the same important meaning and write a comment. Good and bad experiences are also highly appreciated.