The Way We Work
September 12, 2012 by Julia Camenisch

Editor’s Note: Here at oDesk, we’ve been talking a lot lately about online work opportunities for rural businesses and workers. This post is the second in a series on that topic; for the first post in the series, about clients who live in rural areas, check out “Small Town Living, Big Town Talent.”  For a related article on how initiatives to improve broadband Internet access can create job opportunities for rural contractors, don’t miss “Connecting Americans to Jobs: FCC & oDesk Discuss Broadband Internet Access and Job Creation.”

It all started with a pink slip. For both Dini Jaskowski and Suzanne Davis, economic downturns meant the end of one chapter of their working life and signaled the beginning of a new career in online work—one that freed them from commutes and time restraints, and provided the ability to work wherever life took them.

Laid-off to full-time

Davis lives in Burns Flat, Oklahoma. This rural Midwest community has one main thoroughfare and one stoplight. “I chose to move here for my kids. I wanted to be close to family,” she said. Her previous job as an executive assistant was in a larger metropolitan area. But in Burns Flat, there’s not much demand for that skill.

As she discovered, that’s okay.

At the time Davis lost her job, there weren’t a whole lot of other options. “The economy at that time was not conducive to finding another office job,” she recalled. But there was a silver lining in the cloud. “I wanted to be home more with my kids. I wanted to be able to take them to school and pick them up from school.”

Knowing she needed a flexibility that couldn’t be found in the few in-office jobs there were, Davis struck out on a new path.

“I started doing a lot of Internet research,” she said. “Through that I came across a company that was hiring online workers.” This initial job provided part-time work, but it took several years and perseverance before Davis ended up with a full-time job that paid all the bills.

The journey hasn’t always been enjoyable, but Davis, who does customer support and writing work, thinks it’s been worth it. “I don’t have to make a long commute, I’m available for my kids after school and I can live in a peaceful community with less stress,” she said.

From hillsides to seascapes

Jaskowski’s hometown of Picabo, Idaho is barely a blip on the map. With a population that, as of the last census, numbers 128, life is nothing if not quiet. But while the peaceful surroundings can be relaxing, employment prospects aren’t so sanguine.

“There’s no work here—none,” Jaskowski commented. “If it wasn’t for online work, I wouldn’t have a job.”

Online work not only makes living in rural Idaho possible, it also allows Jaskowski to freely travel from one side of the country to the other. Six months out of the year, she and her husband live in Idaho. But the other six months find them located in Mexico’s sunny Baja California Sur.

“Our home is our fifth wheel trailer. The back of the trailer is all windows,” said Jaskowski, an accountant and bookkeeper. With a desk and a laptop situated in front of the windows, she enjoys scenic views that most of us only dream about. “In Mexico, I look out at the sea of Cortes. In Idaho, I look out at the view of rolling foothills and green pastures.”

This mobility is a perk made possible by the ability to work remotely. Jaskowski loves the freedom. “I can work as little as I desire or as much as I desire,” she said. “My hours can start early in the morning or late at night.”

Learning to succeed

As technology has matured, Burns Flat, Oklahoma has developed the infrastructure to make online work easier. But as Davis remembers, it wasn’t always so painless. “When I first moved here, there was no DSL available. I had to connect through a radio-frequency provider and speeds just weren’t that great.”

Even now, Davis admits, there aren’t a lot of options for high-speed connections. “Our choices are limited,” she noted.

In Idaho, Jaskowski also faces connection issues. “The challenge is the speed of the Internet, plus I have to watch my broadband to make sure I don’t go over 10 GB. Internet and phone service are expensive in the U.S. But it’s the cost of doing business here.”

Creating a successful career working online involves more than just a good high-speed connection, as both women will tell you. Jaskowski advises serious commitment. “This is a job, not a hobby. Set your hours and work them. You are not working for a boss, but you’re working for your client. Stand up for customer service. Go the extra mile to do what it takes to be a professional.”

“Be patient,” Davis added. “Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get that first job. Also, don’t underbid just because everyone else is doing it. You need to value your abilities and be confident in what you can do.”

Living where smog is never an issue. Escaping the long commute. Traveling cross-country while still earning a paycheck. These are just a few of the benefits accompanying the online-work life. As Davis and Jaskowski can attest, big-town jobs aren’t dependent on urban living; you can work for anyone, anywhere, while living in a locale that’s home to fewer people than a New York City apartment complex. That is truly freedom to work.

What’s your remote work story? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.