Remote working has been growing steadily in the past decade, but due to the global pandemic sweeping the world, the steady growth has turned exponential. To most in urban spaces this has been an easy change, but to many living in rural America, working remotely has proven difficult. Working remotely has some requirements that have made this at best impractical and at worst impossible.
Up until recently working remotely was looked upon in an unfavorable light; it was assumed that without a manager’s ability to oversee their work, employees would be less productive at home. For this reason, working remotely was an uncommon scenario. COVID-19 has changed all that. Employers are being forced to embrace the remote working that they have been previously hesitant to promote. As more employees have been forced to work under quarantine, recent technological advancements have made it possible to function outside of the office.
Of the many requirements to working remotely, the most crucial is access to high-speed, or broadband Internet. For 97% of urban Americans, broadband Internet access is easy. Simply connect your laptop to the nearest WiFi network or ethernet port, and you have the Internet connection you need. However, outside of urban America, the percentage of people with broadband access falls to a measly 60-65%. Approximately 30 million rural Americans do not have access to broadband Internet, rendering remote work nearly impossible and crippling the local economies.
At the moment, there are a myriad of funding programs and grants with the intention of opening up broadband capabilities to those in rural areas. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service oversees three broadband funding programs in rural America, the FCC has a Universal Service Fund, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration manages two broadband grant programs. These programs have been successful in bringing high-speed Internet to places where it has historically been non-existent. However, as successful as many of these programs have been, the reality is that there are still a great number of Americans living without the same remote work capabilities as others. With the rapid acceleration of the work from home trend that we have seen due to the global pandemic, most Americans are able to adapt, but some still are lagging behind. It remains to be seen whether government programs will be enough to bridge the gap between urban and rural America, and what new technologies or factors will be essential to do so. How we get there has yet to be determined, but the impetus is the same – the age of the remote employee is upon us.