Ten Questions Communities Trying to Attract Remote Workers Should Ask

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Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | Local leaders across the country are contemplating how to lure newcomers to their areas to help spur economic growth. Answering questions around funding, stakeholder input and internet access can lead to a well-crafted strategy.

Remote Tulsa in Oklahoma. Remote Tucson in Arizona. Go Topeka in Kansas. WFH Cambria|Somerset in Pennsylvania. These are just a few of the remote worker programs that communities across the country have created to capitalize on the growing “work from anywhere” trend. Many other towns and cities are wondering how they, too, can create a strategy for attracting remote workers. Here are 10 strategic questions local leaders considering their options should ask.

1. How will you fund a remote worker program? And how much funding do you need? Remote worker program budgets range from $25,000 to $1 million, depending on the number of participants and cash contributions. Existing programs in Cambria and Somerset counties, Tulsa and Northern Arkansas are funded by foundations. Other jurisdictions are using federal grants, state funds and/or local funds.  

2. Who are the key stakeholders that need to be considered and involved?  Remote worker programs require buy in from multiple stakeholders. For example, economic development entities are concerned about how recruiting remote workers will help develop the local economy. Workforce development organizations want to ensure that attracting remote workers will not negatively impact current underemployed or unemployed individuals in the community.  Local community leaders are concerned about the impact of remote workers on the community culture and character. And local business owners will assess how their businesses can benefit from the potential new arrivals. Understanding stakeholders’ priorities and addressing them early on will help to set a program up for success.

3. How does your community stack up on the one “must have” for remote workers—fast, dependable internet access? This is the one non-negotiable amenity for remote workers, whose livelihoods are dependent on having reliable broadband access. In one recent study of remote workers,  92% of respondents said they would be “lost” without reliable home broadband. Therefore, highlighting your communities’ broadband access and rates can help with attracting workers.

4. What competitive advantages do you have? Most remote workers are looking for more affordable housing and a lower cost of living. Examining how your community rates on key indices like cost of living, air quality, safety, access to transportation, housing costs, utilities and taxes is a very effective way of attracting remote workers who are making an economic decision.

5. What makes your area unique? Financial incentives and increased affordability are important parts of what makes relocation attractive to remote workers. But they will also make emotional decisions about where they want to work and live based on the character of the area. For example, a remote worker who is looking for four season outdoor activities is going to be attracted to Cambria and Somerset counties because of the region’s proximity to lakes and mountains, while someone who wants to live by the ocean will not. 

6. Where will you recruit remote workers from?  Recruiting tourists who visit your community is one recruitment starting point. For instance, Cambria and Somerset counties have established tourism paths for residents of Northern Virginia, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Jersey, who visit the area for skiing, hiking, white-water rafting and biking trails. Alternatively, focusing on “boomerangs”—individuals who went to school in the area or who have family there—is another productive recruiting strategy. 

7. Who are your best-fit remote workers? Identifying who you want to attract depends on your existing community demographics and your local economy. For example, if you are looking to boost your young adult population you may want to attract remote workers who are recent graduates or young single professionals. Similarly, if there are emerging industries you are hoping to attract to your community like clean energy or healthcare you might want to attract remote workers with specific occupations in those fields.  

8. What will your relocation incentive package include? The first remote worker incentive programs in Tulsa and Vermont, offered $10,000 to offset relocation expenses. Tucson offers a combination of cash and in-kind benefits such as free internet. Cambria and Somerset counties are using a creative, nuanced approach combining cash, core amenities and customized benefits to meet individual remote workers’ needs. For example, they are offering discounts on mountain bike competitions or whitewater rafting excursions for outdoors enthusiasts, discounts on childcare for new parents or memberships to the local symphony. 

9. How will you reach your target groups? Targeting the right marketing channels is essential for reaching your selected remote worker priority groups. Most remote workers have at least one social media profile on Linkedin, Reddit, Instagram or Facebook. Tapping into these platforms will help to target your marketing efforts. Additionally, you might want to explore a strategic partnership with social media influencers who can help spread your message. 

10. Do you have the organization and processes to manage this program? When getting off the ground, remote worker programs need resources and manpower to track applicants, evaluate applications and notify candidates of their status. The Tulsa program was initially overwhelmed with applicants. On the first day, the city received 1,900 applications. While many programs won’t receive such a dramatic response, it’s important to develop processes that can withstand a large demand.

Once local leaders have answered these questions, they’ll have a rudimentary strategy for attracting remote workers to their communities. However, this is only half the challenge–a plan is only as good as its execution.

Deborah Smith Cook is CEO of Atheseus. She helps communities craft and execute strategies to attract remote workers.

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