The COVID-19  pandemic created many new normals for the country and world. The enforcement of social distancing and facility capacity limits changed circumstances for everyone. These changes not only affected how we moved in our day-to-day lives, but they also transformed the way we work and our perceptions of work. And remote work offers exciting opportunities for rural communities.

For decades, rural economies have fallen behind the rest of the country as they’ve been left out of the rapidly growing knowledge, technology, and professional services industries. The COVID-19 pandemic showed that technological advancements have reached a point where many of those jobs can be done from everywhere — rural places included. 

With funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Research and National Technical Assistance (RNTA) program, the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) put together a series of five briefs offering insight into what the future of work means for rural America. This second brief addresses what we have learned about remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic: what remote work in rural America looked like before, how remote work changed during the pandemic, and what it may look like in the future. 

We analyze the implications of these trends for rural America, and provide six recommendations for rural leaders to consider when creating economic and workforce development strategies and programs:

  • Build the broadband infrastructure of the future, and make sure people know where it is. 
  • When attracting remote workers, incorporate housing into your economic development strategy. 
  • Create spaces, places, and programs where remote workers can meet and network. 
  • When working to increase remote employment for local workers, focus workforce development efforts on skills aligned with remote work professions. 
  • When attracting remote workers, target workers that already have connections to your community. 
  • Invest in quality of life. 

Through this work, we aim to equip rural economic and workforce development leaders with the latest research and thinking on the future of work to help inform strategy, programs, and planning work.

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This content was prepared by Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc. using Federal funds under award ED20HDQ3120070 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.