The remote work revolution is transforming opportunities for rural women

The remote work revolution is transforming opportunities for rural women: Jo Palmer wants to go one step further

We’re profiling women working in agriculture and related fields, thanks to the excellent support of AgriFutures Australia, in line with our weekly publication for women in agriculture, The Ag Wrap.

Jo Palmer was promoting and advocating for remote work well before the events of 2020.

She founded Pointer Remote four years ago, a jobs platform connecting businesses with remote workers, particularly those living outside of major metropolitan areas, and especially women.

The platform had been getting a lot of attention and growing fast – so fast that Jo was named the 2019 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award National Winner.

But then “remote work” took on a whole new level of momentum in 2020, as businesses everywhere needed their staff to work from home.

“It’s progressed at the speed of light,” Jo tells Women’s Agenda. “Remote work is the expectation, the norm, even as people are returning to offices.” The idea that “work is what we do, not where we go” swiftly became a reality across the spare bedrooms and kitchen tables all over the world.   

And now Jo’s seen first-hand the shift the remote working revolution has created in the opportunities now available across Australia, especially for those living regionally and remotely who never had access to some of the roles city-based workers were able to pursue. She says job candidates are now saying upfront where they live and negotiating their positions accordingly – rather than waiting until halfway through the hiring process before revealing their location. 

“It’s a game-changer,” she says. “People have been wanting this flexibility forever, but it’s taken COVID to push the change from employers. And what they’re finding is that even when people were juggling kids and home school and everything else in lockdown, there were still productivity benefits in having people work remotely.”

This revolution is not just transforming the lives of individuals and their families, it’s transforming communities: great talent is more willing to stay put, rather than move into cities. And the “trailing spouse” – which Jo says has often hindered a community’s ability to get great teachers, doctors and other key roles in towns – now have considerably more opportunities to pick up work. 

Indeed, it’s giving those who may have always expected to be living in cities due to their work the opportunity to pursue a different lifestyle. So much so that in some regional areas, property prices have jumped more than 40%.

“When you give people access to work, when you remove those barriers to entry, they pay taxes and spend money,” Jo says. “That’s how you recover from COVID. That’s how you build resilience against drought and flood and fire.”

Palmer grew up in Jindabyne NSW, went to boarding school in Sydney, and travelled and worked internationally before returning to regional Australia. She studied primary school teaching at Charles Sturt University and taught in small rural schools across the Riverina.

With two kids at home, she now works from a co working space in Wagga Wagga – one of many such spaces popping up in regional centres all over the country, to offer workers an alternative to working from home.

Palmer says that it was her own experience working remotely and managing remote teams that inspired her to found Pointer. She could see a vast pool of talent in friends – especially the partners of farmers – who were missing out on work purely because of their location.  She recalls running a team remotely herself when she supported a friend in getting a remote role, and then saw an opening for creating a platform that could connect employers with professional women.

Now that the remote working revolution has occurred, she wants to see it not only stick but actually reset how we think about work. 

Indeed, she wants more employers to adopt a “remote first” attitude to their staff, promoting remote work as expected rather than something to be requested. 

“If you have one person working remotely, you need a companywide attitude of remote work. If not everyone is going to be in the room, then not everyone does the video conference. Don’t just have one person on the screen,” she says.

“You really have to actively manage that company culture, which can be even trickier when you’re pursuing a hybrid style remote working policy,” she says. “But if you have that remote first attitude towards the whole company, it really sets the bar and becomes so much more inclusive for everyone.”

Jo describes the events of the past year as an “emotional rollercoaster” given how her business has adapted and changed during the process. But as she speaks with Women’s Agenda, she says she’s close to signing off on a significant deal that would see a major employer promoting roles on her platform for the first time. 

Much of what she’s been able to achieve, she says, was made possible thanks to winning the AgriFutures Rural Women Award. It opened doors, granted her access and respect from key decision-makers. 

“One of my goals for the Award year was to meet as many federal and state ministers as possible,” she says. “The Award definitely gave me the courage to reach out directly to ministers.”

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