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Working Remotely in Minnesota

In April 2019, Stripe, a (large) startup headquartered in San Francisco, California, announced that its fifth engineering hub would be located remotely. Their other four engineering hubs are located in San Francisco, Seattle, Dublin and Singapore, so this new plan, to not have a physical location for their new hub, shows a marked change in hiring strategy and is first-rate evidence that remote work has become less of a trend and more of an accepted reality in recent years.

Minnesota’s own remote workforce continues to grow, and its employers include some of the most successful startups in the country as well as newer startups on the cutting edge of technology. Companies that do not have a “primary office” presence in our state but count Minnesotans among their remote workers include LinkedIn, Zoom, Github, Doist, Heroku, inVision, and Glitch.

Remote work refers to when full-time employees are working outside of a traditional office setting. They are fully integrated members of the team but are not physically located at a main office. There are now websites popping up that are specifically designed to target remote workers like Remote.co and We Work Remotely. Even more established sites like Indeed offer the ability to use “Remote” as your location when searching, and Angel List has a specific “Remote Possible” search filter.

Like Stripe, numerous companies are beginning to publicize that they are remote friendly or even have a majority of their workforce working remotely. Half of Glitch, a startup based out of New York City, is made up of remote employees. The only one in Minnesota is Antoinette Smith, a full-stack engineer. An avid runner, Smith appreciates the flexibility to create her own schedule and make time for the things, like running, that make her happy. She explains that because her team is spread out across the US and overseas, “it’s less about someone making sure that I’m working at a specific time and more about me setting standards for myself.”

Even jobs listed as in-house positions can work out as remote opportunities. This spring, Minnesota-based Jack Knutson landed a job as community growth lead for Wyre, a San Francisco–based startup that does international payment transfers using Bitcoin. He found his current gig via Angel List even though the position wasn’t actually listed as remote. “The first thing I said was, ‘Hey, I know this isn’t remote, but I want to stay in St. Paul. I really like your company, and I like this opportunity, but I do not want to move.’”

Ben Aughenbaugh had lived in New York for 12 years before he wound up in Minnesota when his wife went back to graduate school. “We thought we’d end up going back to New York, but this place is incredible, so there’s no leaving,” Aughenbaugh says. It essentially forced Aughenbaugh to have a conversation with his then employer Zillow Group to convince them to let him be their first remote employee. He convinced them he would be more productive in his sales development role while working from Minnesota and that the company (which had offices on the coasts) would benefit from having him centrally located. He’s been working remotely ever since, and after a number of years with Zillow has transitioned to another remote role as a strategic accounts director at Brainly.com.

Another (albeit more difficult) way to get that remote position is to create your own company. Andrew Murray lived in Boulder, Colorado, when in 2012 he became the technical cofounder of OpenSnow, a company that does weather forecasting for outdoor sports around the world. He moved to Minnesota three years in when his partner got a new job and saw his rent cut in half. Murray and his team have never wanted a traditional office experience, instead preferring the flexibility that comes with remote work, especially when it comes to travel. “How do you take 13 trips in a matter of 12 months if you have an office to go to?” Murray asks. “Or how do you not feel bad about not being in the office?”

This ability to travel has been, like remote work, significantly impacted by technology advancements explicitly designed for the non-office—wifi on flights, cloud sharing, VPNs, and video conferencing. Despite the proliferation of this tech, most people we spoke with credited just two primary tools as enabling their connection to teammates—the smartphone phone and Slack, the collaboration and communication hub that some have argued could replace email.

Fueled Collective office in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange
Fueled Collective downtown Minneapolis location at the Grain Exchange building. Fueled Collective and WeWork are among the numerous coworking spaces popping up throughout MN and providing remote workers with plenty of workplace options. (Photo courtesy of Fueled Collective)

Other than the technology they use, there are surprisingly few commonalities shared by all those working outside the office. Some swear by keeping a regular 9-to-5 work schedule. Others extoll the virtues of being able to run errands during the day and work from home late into the night. Some, like Aughenbaugh, work in one of the many coworking spaces, including WeWork (whose Uptown location is pictured at the top of the article) and Fueled Collective, that are now available in the Twin Cities, seeing them as a sign of things to come: “This is the future, this is the way people are going to work.” Others, like Knutson, prefer a shorter commute: “From my bedroom to the other bedroom with a quick pitstop at the coffee maker.”

Trips to the home office ranged from twice a month to once a quarter to none at all for those working at completely remote companies. Even with these trips, remote workers we spoke to acknowledged that there can, of course, be disadvantages to working remotely. It can be challenging to move into leadership roles if there’s a lack of strong in-person relationships or lack of visibility to upper management. Giving and receiving feedback was also identified as something difficult to do over the phone or even video as it is often difficult to read subtle body language when not in person.

That said, the advantages of remote work clearly outweigh the disadvantages to the majority of current remote workers. In Buffer’s report, State of Remote Work 2019, they reported that 99% of the 2,471 remote workers they surveyed would like to work remotely for the rest of their careers. This sentiment was strongly echoed by those in Minnesota. Knutson echoes Smith and Murray when it come to their enthusiasm for the flexibility that remote work offers, stating, “I would be happy to work remote for my remaining future career.”  And from the sound of it, that future will be in Minnesota. Listing off the reasons he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, Knutson included his family, friends, the food scene, and access to nature. He was echoed by Aughenbaugh in his enthusiasm for both Minnesota and working outside the usual office structure. “I don’t think I could ever go back into a traditional job.” With the proliferation of remote work, it looks like he won’t have to.

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