Skip to main content

Remote Work and Rural Communities: A good partnership?

Updated October 20, 2022
Professional headshot of Peggy Schlechter

Peggy Schlechter

SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist

Two women setting up a remote workstation.
Courtesy: Canva

How does remote work fit into your community? Some people may not be excited about their community promoting remote work options. They may be fearful it will pull people from an already limited workforce. What if remote work opportunities were viewed in a different way? It could be what attracts or keeps workers in your community.

Many people who would like to live in rural areas leave for better career opportunities in larger towns, or they leave a rural community because a spouse can’t find a job in their career field.

Remote work options can provide newcomers with opportunities that may only be available in more-urban areas. People can then choose where they want to live and raise a family.

Who wants to live rural? How about people who are longing for a place to raise their children where they can play outside in their yard without fear of harm, or people wanting their children to grow up near grandparents and extended family? Or maybe they are looking for a place where they can easily enjoy and participate in the common activities of rural life. Is there anything better than a homecoming parade? Watching kids play in the Friday night football game? A slower pace of life where cattle crossing the road is a traffic jam?

Keeping young people in rural areas has been a topic of concern to rural leaders for years as the population of many rural communities continues to decline. For the past decade, Craig Schroeder with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Nebraska has surveyed rural youth across the country, and survey results show that about 50% of youth living in a rural community can picture themselves living in their hometowns in the future. Two of the top reasons given were family ties and that the community was a good place to raise a family. The most-common reason shared for not returning was lack of opportunity.

In 2018, Gallup asked people where they preferred to live. Rural came out on top for all age groups except for 18-to-29-year-olds. With the 18-to-29-year-olds, rural still came up in second place (out of 6 choices). While about 15% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, Gallup reported that 27% wanted to live rural. The gap between the desire to live rural and the actual percentage living rural is evident. (This survey was completed pre-COVID-19. Surveys completed since the start of COVID-19 indicate that even more people may be interested in living rural now.) So why don’t they make the move? Quite simply, rural areas aren’t seen as the place jobs and opportunities are located.

What if remote work was promoted in your rural community? When a new person moves into the community, they often bring a family. So even if that new person has a remote work job, they may have family members who can fill some traditional jobs in the community. Even if the whole family works remotely, they are earning money elsewhere and spending, at least some of it, in your community. They might have children who attend school in the local school district, too.

Do you have high-speed, reliable Internet in your community? Is wi-fi available in public spaces? Are you promoting that? Are you connecting those who might want to return to their hometown with their families with opportunities for both traditional and remote work jobs?

South Dakota Remote Works Program

a woman using a laptop to join a video meeting with other people

One way to begin is to share information about the South Dakota Remote Works program. The program is designed to equip workers with tools and skills needed to work as a remote worker, freelancer, or entrepreneur. The Master Remote Work Professional certificate course is a 1-month specialized training, which combines online work with interactive workshops. Community members may not have to leave their home community for better careers options when they can bring the career to them by taking South Dakota Remote Works. Visit the South Dakota Remote Works page to learn more.

For more information about promoting remote work in your community, contact SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialists Peggy Schlechter at or 605-394-1722; or Joshua Hofer at or 605-695-7378.