Location Doesn’t Matter: A Step Forward

For the first time in modern history, location doesn’t matter. We can work wherever we have reliable internet access.

We are in an unprecedented time for many reasons. How we work is one of the major shifts that we’re experiencing. The COVID-19 crisis has required us all to stay home and to use technology in ways we haven’t before to connect with people, stay productive, and perform our jobs. Provided we have stable internet access, many of us have found that we can carry on just fine with our work while at home. (Granted, we have many other concerns and distractions to contend with due to this crisis, but if we look at purely the remote work aspect, overall, many people are making it happen.)

This brings me to ask a few fundamental questions about the nature of work:

  • What happens when location no longer matters?
  • How does it help companies do a better job with diversity and inclusion?
  • How does this help companies better support employees’ well-being?

My career – just like yours and everyone else’s – has always been bound by location. Early in my career, my opportunities were entirely dependent on location. Later in my career, I had more flexibility with where I worked, but I struggled being more than an hour away from a major airport.

I’ve worked remotely for more than 15 years now. I started my career based in Boston, and once I had some experience and proved myself to my employer, I asked to begin working remotely. I moved to rural Maine, where I’m from, and traveled to Boston and New York about a quarter to half the time as needed. I started and led two teams, hired and mentored team members, and grew businesses. It wasn’t a barrier to me. I still had to physically show up from time to time to make it work though.

For the first time in modern history, location doesn’t matter. So long as I have a reliable internet connection, I’m no longer at a disadvantage sitting in rural Maine. My colleagues and competitors in Boston, New York, and San Francisco can’t go out to grab coffee or network after work either. We all rely on video conference calls, email outreach, and LinkedIn. For the first time, I feel like I’m on a level playing field with the rest of the world.

As we think about diversity and inclusion, it’s important to consider the role location plays. People from different places have different upbringings, experiences, and perspectives. Including people from diverse places is as important as including people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and different sexual orientations. How many companies are run and populated by people who live in urban areas? And not only urban areas, but our major markets like Boston, New York, and San Francisco? Many of these people grew up in other places, but they have had to adapt in some way to the urban way of life and urban sensibilities. It creates a type of assimilation in this way.

Well-being is another aspect of location that’s critical to consider. We all know that employees who feel well, supported, and content, do their best work. Full-time remote workers say they're happy in their job 22% more than people who never work remotely. When people must leave their families and places that they enjoy for employment, that transition can be one of the most stressful times in life.

In a Pew Research Study from 2017, respondents were asked what the primary reason was for staying in the same city or area that they grew up in. 50% cited to remain close to family, and 24% cited familiarity and comfort. 69% of respondents said that family gives them the greatest sense of meaning, with career coming next at 34%. While the top reason people move to a new city is for a job (42%).

I grew up in rural Maine and being able to spend time there has always been crucial to my well-being. I love the fresh air, wildlife, the quiet, and the stars I get to see at night. It’s where my family has lived for generations, and this place, while beautiful and inspiring to any visitor, for me, holds stories and memories. It’s where I have my roots and am fully connected. I’m incredibly grateful I’ve been able to nurture a successful career there. This place has been one of the keys to my success because I am my best self when I can be there.

At Uprise Partners, we’re focused on hiring team members outside of major markets for two main reasons.  

1) We want to create great jobs for people so they can live where they love.

2) We believe that great work can happen anywhere.

We’re going to continue to champion our work so that we aren’t undervalued because many of our team members sit in Maine or other locations outside of major markets. Location doesn’t equal worth. And often, as with other attributes that bring judgement and prejudice, people from rural areas or outside of major cities are stigmatized. They are judged as being less than, less intelligent, less worldly, less interesting. I’ve seen this happen firsthand countless times.

I hope with this new way of working, leaders can have a fresh perspective on how they’re developing their teams. Location diversity, and locations’ connection to well-being is critical consider when nurturing talent and building high-performing teams.

Please reach out and let us know how you’re thinking about location and work in different ways.

Malinda Gagnon

Malinda is CEO at Uprise and has more than 20 years of experience in business strategy and technology at companies including Google and WPP, and has advised clients such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric, VW, BlackRock, and Walmart.

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