Purdue University Makes Its Play for Remote Workers
Workspan Daily
April 13, 2022
Key Takeaways

  • An appeal to teleworkers. A new Purdue University program offers a host of incentives aimed at drawing remote workers to West Lafayette, Indiana, where the school is based. 
  • Attractive incentives. For all the flexibility that remote work provides, staying connected to co-workers and the outside world can be a challenge, which might make incentives like those offered by Purdue appealing to teleworkers. 
  • Maintaining connections. When done right, programs designed to attract remote workers to a given area can serve to balance the needs of the economy, organizations and human element to drive success and overall connection to a company and a community. 

The whole idea — and a huge part of the appeal — behind remote work is that it can be done from anywhere. Purdue University in Indiana is pitching a program that it hopes will entice teleworkers from all over to come do their thing in the Hoosier State’s most densely populated city. 

The West Lafayette-based institution has introduced Work From Purdue, an initiative designed to provide incentives for remote workers to move to the Discovery Park District community at Purdue. 

No affiliation with the university is necessary, but eligible candidates must be working remotely full-time, must currently reside out-of-state and must commit to living in West Lafayette for one year, according to a Purdue statement announcing the new program. 

Incentives will vary depending on where candidates choose to live in the town, with relocation packages including up to $4,000 in cash relocation stipends, $1,000 dining credit and other housing discounts. 

According to Purdue University, new residents will be eligible for professional development through Purdue Foundry and Greater Lafayette Commerce, along with discounts on continuing education through Purdue’s online degree program and Purdue University Global. Other benefits include free public transportation, discounts on gym memberships and access to family care-finding services, a campus wireless network and Purdue libraries. 

Purdue is touting the program as “the first of its kind.” And Work From Purdue might well be the only such initiative led by an academic institution. But it’s not the first time that generous perks and benefits have been offered to remote workers in an effort to attract them to a particular region. 

In 2021, for example, West Virginia introduced Ascend WV, a program aimed at enticing “outdoor-enthusiast professionals” to come live and work remotely in the Mountain State. 

“We are rolling out the red carpet and inviting remote workers from across the country to make Almost Heaven, West Virginia their home,” said West Virginia Governor Jim Justice in a statement announcing the new initiative. 

Ascend WV does provide remote workers a host of incentives to relocate to the rural state. For example, the program offers teleworkers $12,000 with no strings attached, to be used to assist with moving and living expenses and/or to “explore new passions and hobbies,” according to a West Virginia Department of Tourism press release

Those taking advantage of the program can also enjoy free outdoor recreation — whitewater rafting, hiking, ziplining, rock climbing and skiing — along with free co-working spaces and opportunities to earn remote work certifications through West Virginia University. 

And, since 2018, Tulsa Remote has offered $10,000 grants and community-building opportunities to attract eligible remote workers and entrepreneurs from outside the state of Oklahoma. The initiative welcomed nearly 400 members to Tulsa in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic’s arrival effectively shuttered offices everywhere. 

Incentives like those on offer from Purdue University and in other locations “could certainly be appealing to those whose work is suitable for 100% remote work, and that have company support to remain remote,” said Lesli Jennings, North America work, rewards and career practice leader at Willis Towers Watson. 

These types of incentives could also attract remote gig workers, as these independent contractors “are not tied to a single company, and similarly could benefit from the community connections,” Jennings added. 

All types of workers value flexibility, as seen in Willis Towers Watson’s recent Reimagining Work & Rewards survey, which found that flexible work arrangements “have become table stakes for organizations in many industries or countries striving to attract and retain top talent.” 

But, for all the flexibility that remote work provides, staying connected to co-workers or the outside world at large can become an issue for teleworkers. One 2021 survey, for example, saw more than a quarter of remote workers saying isolation is a challenging aspect of their work experience. Close to 40% reported that socializing with colleagues was the most difficult aspect of work to replicate in a remote environment. 

Dave Ulrich, a professor of business at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, sees work as becoming less about a place or even a job, and more about a set of tasks to be done.  

“Instead of workforce planning, companies are doing ‘worktask’ planning, where the focus is on tasks to be accomplished,” said Ulrich, who is also co-founder of the RBL Group.

“Many — not all — of these tasks do not require face-to-face, in-person interactions and can be done remotely. Once a task is done remotely through technology, 400 yards away could just as easily be 4,000 miles,” he said. “The inevitable risk is that some of the ‘tasks’ are more subtle — building relationships, culture and social cohesion. These ‘belonging’ tasks need to also be considered as part of work.” 

Given this reality, programs such as Work from Purdue can be effective as a way for remote workers to develop strong social, community and business connections, not to mention the access to the many benefits of a university setting and the economic advantages of a lower-cost location, said Jennings. 

“[These are] all important considerations in lifestyle choices, particularly in those situations for remote workers who, by definition, do not have direct access to such benefits within their organization on a company-owned ‘campus,’” she said. 

Ultimately, “the attractiveness of these types of programs — when done right — is that they balance the needs of the economy, organizations and human element to drive success and overall connection to a company and a community.” 

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