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 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.

The Ultimate List of Remote Work Pros and Cons

No matter who you want to convince, your boss, your employees, your partner or just yourself, here are the ultimate arguments for remote work.

For Employees

pros

  • no time for commuting
  • no money for commuting (fuel, car, insurance, parking, train tickets)
  • lower stress and reduced possibity of accidents while commuting
  • improved health due to lower stress through commuting and busy city centers
  • more productive work in less time
  • no distractions by collegues and loudly cubical farms
  • no long water cooler talks
  • no useless face-to-face meetings
  • work where and when you are most productive
  • you are managing your schedule, that is not done by your manager
  • you are measured by accomplished work and not hours spend at the office
  • you can’t be micro-managed by your manager
  • more time for family and hobbies
  • time and flexibility to take care for family members (the young, old or disabled)

cons

  • risk of loneliness and isolation
  • the need for self-motivation (which is easier if your job fits to you and hard if not)
  • sometimes lack of good communication tools
  • no short water cooler talks
For Employers

pros

  • infinite talent pool / higher qualified employees and saved time while hiring
  • the skill shortage in your region will not slow your business down
  • you will get self-motivated people instead of bored 9-to-5-staff
  • good employees will most likely not relocate if you are a startup or a small company
  • you are getting work done by the employees and not hours spend at your office
  • your employees are spread over lots of different markets – so you get a lot of market information and trail opportunities for your products
  • relaxed employees, because they have no commuting or office stress and better work flexibility (for collecting kids, doctors appointments, dog walks, etc.)
  • more productive work in less time
  • possibility of an easy around the clock customer service
  • save cost on office space, furniture, energy, cleaning service, janitor
  • availability of divers cultures which can be respected at creating products
  • availability of native speakers of different languages while finding a name for your product or creating user documents
  • products are better specified and documented, because the remote work requires it
  • you are disaster ready: you are still online, if there is an internet or power blackout, flooding, snow storm or flu season at one location

cons

  • work in different time zones need to be managed
  • misunderstandings because of too less or bad communication
  • you need good remote project managers to create a successful product or service
For the Environment

pros

  • no pollution through commuting
  • less demand for new freeways and railroads

cons

  • pollution from travelling of digital nomads

So it is no surprise that the remote movement is unstoppable. My personal opinion is, that it will even accelerate and that we will find empty office towers in big cities and flourishing small towns and co-working hubs spreaded all over the counties. That will increase companies efficiency and our all quality of life.

Please let me know what pro or con I have missed in the comment section. Thanks!

Remote Work opposes Nationalism!

The actual development in Europe and for sure extremly in the US politics throws questions in every community and every industry.

So, what is the remote work industry thinking about? The remote work ideology, if we like to name it that way, is the complete opposite of all nationalistic thinking. Most remote workers symbolize globalization, multiculturalism, equality and freedom (of thought, speech, action, religion, trade, loacation and much more).

There are just a few remote workers in the world, who are working from home or in a co-working space for a company or customers, without any connection to foreign nations. All the others have regular communication, collaboration, partnerships and trade (of goods and knowledge) with different countries. And we love that and we know the benefits.

Globalization is not 100% positive for everyone, we are not denying the drawbacks. But nationalism is definitive the wrong answer! To name one example: the jobless production workforce of the North of the USA will be not saved by import taxes or anti-immigration actions. They will only be saved by appropriate educational actions (education has already changed to a lifelong task) and complete opening to the global remote work industry.

To the political leaders everywhere: Think of easier taxes for digital nomads, e-residencies, universal basic income, free travel, working visas for every taxpaying worker and free internet with net neutrality instead of closing your borders!

So in these days, remote workes are Canadians instead of US citizens. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, twittered at 28th of January 2017 ‘To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada’.

Anyway, most remote workers are decribing themselves as ‘global citizens’. Surveys of millennials are showing a rising numbers of people identifying themselves with the global community rather than with a nation.

Sorry, Mr. Trump, there is no place for your ideology in our future communities!