On the list of ideas for tackling the twin challenges that plague Montana workers — scarce rural jobs and low wages even in cities — telework is close to the top. As better internet access connects even far-flung rural communities with the rest of the world, it seems to promise Montanans a way to have their cake and eat it too: a fulfilling career at a city wage without having to leave the Last Best Place. The notion has been embraced by business leaders and officeholders across the state, most notably, former tech entrepreneur-turned-U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte, who once mailed thousands of brochures to Montana college graduates imploring them to “come home to Montana” and has spoken of telecommuting as allowing ranch spouses to “earn a national wage in a rural community.”
“The reality is that the Internet has removed geography as a constraint,” Gianforte said in Missoula during a 2015 “Bring Our Families Back” tour that presaged his 2016 bid for governor. “Our graduates can live virtually anywhere in Montana and work for Fortune 500 companies with global client bases.”
Telecommuting has been a boon for some in Montana, but the remote work landscape isn’t quite as flat as its boosters sometimes claim. Geography — particularly access to education and professional networks — still shapes the careers of Montanans who aspire to pair national opportunity with rural lifestyles.