Rural Revival

Sridhar Vembu, CEO of Zoho, writes an insightful essay about the future of remote work and the move away from urbanization. Among cloud software companies, Zoho is one of the best (#5), if not least known. The virtual future for a tech worker is about competence, interconnectedness, agility, and frugality. I think home is wherever you feel you can become a better you. Companies like Zoho and GitLab hold the pulse on a new wfh world where tech workers with significant experience (5+ years) should never have to leave home and family behind. I still think younger workers, especially those under 30, benefit from an in-person experience for at least five years after college.

If everyone is connected virtually, do we need to get in a car and clog the arteries of major cities to communicate with distributed teams, which predominate in most tech companies? If tech’s ultimate goal is to wire the world and bridge the digital divide, why waste resources in expensive metros and put staff at higher risk for pandemics? They can work in places that need support and uplift those starved for skills and economic means.

Imagine if 1/3 of Silicon Valley moved back to their hometowns. The influence back ’home’ would uplift communities. It’s already happening on a large scale with satellite offices. The world headquarters for Zoho is in Chennai. Sridhar shifted US headquarters to Austin from Silicon Valley. He has taken this approach to rural villages in India. The scenic vistas of rural Tenkasi, India, look like a perfect escape from a crowded, dangerous world. Amazingly, high-quality software gets shipped from here.

I once spent four weeks every year at Accenture’s training office in Illinois, and that was ample time to pick up the ‘culture’ and leadership skills to work in a distributed environment. After establishing such core training at their headquarters like Accenture, companies should let experienced workers be wherever they need to be, even if this is rural India. By creating some local pods, the warmth and feel of an office environment enable what is known as ’gurukulam’ in India. Senior workers have ample opportunities to mentor junior trainees, especially those who’ve been disadvantaged. Sridhar’s idea also makes financial and environmental sense.

The arrival of 5G networks lets Sridhar run a large organization from rural India using his Smartphone. Marc Benioff does the same mostly away from Salesforce headquarters in San Francisco. Why not empower everyone else with the same options?