How small town workers stand to gain from the remote working revolution

When the pandemic struck, we witnessed the unfortunate exodus of blue-collar migrants from cities as they struggled to reach their hometowns.

Although several of them have pledged never to return to cities, the sad reality is that this might not be feasible. The economic constraints that forced them to leave their hometown in the first place will force them to venture out again, in search of job opportunities that are sorely lacking in their villages. However, this article does not concern these migrants.

Instead, let’s take a look at the impact of the pandemic on white collar workers, especially those in the digital / tech space. As digital technologies have become essential for the proper functioning of organizations during the pandemic, the demand for professionals in these fields has increased dramatically.

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Previously these jobs were concentrated in cities like Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi, Bangalore leading the pack. In 2019, migrants made up 50% of Bangalore’s population.

However, repeated lockdowns and COVID restrictions have led to the realization that a large number of white collar jobs can be performed perfectly, even in a remote environment.

Several professionals returned to their hometowns / villages and continued to work smoothly. Most of these professionals don’t seem eager to get back to work. They enjoy being close to their family and the friends they grew up with.

Organizations also realize that not all roles require people to be physically present in the office. The work seems to be going well when you look at the performance of these companies.

Therefore, we are likely to see the emergence of new work models such as working entirely from home or hybrid roles. Hub and spoke models, where there are micro-offices across the country rather than a few large facilities, may become more common.

According to a survey by ManageEngine, the IT management division of Zoho Corporation, around 95% of Indian businesses plan to stick with remote work for the next two years at least.

A golden opportunity to stem migration

Most of India’s big cities are overcrowded and jam-packed, overrun with traffic jams and facing scarcity of precious resources such as water. Despite this, unskilled migrants, as well as professionals, kept flocking to these cities in search of a better life.

Now, with the pandemic demonstrating the feasibility of remote working, states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Bengal which have typically witnessed a large volume of migration have an opportunity.

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They have the ability to entice professionals to stay behind while still doing the same high-end, high-value work as before. State governments should also reach out to businesses and provide them with the necessary incentives to locate in their states.

This will have a long-term impact on creating an environment that would attract more of these professionals and businesses. All the evidence indicates that digital and technology will dominate the future.

Jobs will follow talent. As remote work becomes the norm across the world, there is also an opportunity to attract more work from overseas to India as we have a demographic advantage.

Building infrastructure in small towns

To make remote working a viable solution in our increasingly digital world, local governments must step up and create the necessary infrastructure to attract professionals to build their lives in these small towns.

This could include ensuring superior connectivity, encouraging the opening of good schools, entertainment options and other facilities to improve the quality of life.

With the right skills building efforts and infrastructure investments, India has the potential to become the global talent hub, not only limited to big cities, but also to the hinterland. We hope to see some initiatives from these states move in this direction.

As growth is distributed more evenly, even poor and unskilled migrants are likely to have more opportunities closer to home, rather than having to travel far to find employment opportunities.

(The author is the founder and CEO of Simplilearn.)

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