Gretchin StaplesBy: Anne Maxwell
There’s several reasons why Gretchin Staples loves her job.
But if you ask her what the best aspect about her role as Regional Coordinator for Rural & Remote is, she’ll answer without hesitation.
“Working with people one-on-one to help them realize their goals and to achieve them,” she said of the professionals she guides through the Rural & Remote Master of Remote Work Certificate program. “It’s the number one thing I enjoy. It’s in my nature to help people. Being able to do that through Rural & Remote and seeing it make a difference in their lives, that’s absolutely my favorite part.”
Staples is a seasoned professional, but is a relative newcomer to remote work herself. In fact, she began taking the remote course as she simultaneously started as Regional Coordinator in August 2019. A self-starter, Staples embraced the opportunity to hit the ground running.
“I was learning on the job … I just jumped right in and figured it out as I went along,” she said of best practices for remote work. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. It allowed me to learn as I went and be able to build the processes we use. As we’ve gone along, we’ve focused the program a lot more on individual attention and more one-on-one consultation.”
That approach has provided the foundation of the program – namely, helping professionals not only gain the necessary skills for successful remote work, but also navigate the remote work journey with certainty.
“The work we do individually is one of our huge benefits,” she notes. “You do not need our program to go find a remote job, you can pursue it on your own, figure out what’s a scam, what’s not. You can also get familiar with project management systems or communication systems on your own.”
However, there’s a lot of time and energy to be saved for those with Rural & Remote in their corner.
“Our program cuts out all that time investment for you,” Staples said. “When you come to Rural & Remote and follow the skill training we offer and the connections we can give to you, you are going to have that attention and get that accountability.”
Many of the professionals Staples works with are at a crossroads: they are seeking that professional niche where they fit, hoping to remain close to home. It’s not always easy in rural areas to find a business or a career where experience or education in certain sectors are applicable. Staples knows this first hand. She was once an interior designer, living in Northwest Kansas with a newborn daughter.
“It was about 20 years ago and I had never intended to end up back where I grew up after moving to Kansas City following graduation from Kansas State, but there I was, back on our family farm,” she recalls. “I built a freelance interior design service on my own and that’s really where the entrepreneurial spirit sparked in me. It showed me that you really can build something from nothing.”
That same spark motivated her to establish an interior design business, and later when she moved to Beloit, she decided to go through the Leadership Mitchell County training.
“That developed a new interest for me in community development, which is what truly led me to my current role with Rural & Remote,” she said.
The rich and varied experience that Staples brings to the table enables her to relate with the professionals she helps. Staples earned that first-hand knowledge as she traveled her own career path to land in a remote job.
“First of all, it’s the flexibility that it can offer … especially for women who are trying to run the house, be a mom, and have a full-time career,” she said. “People want to be valued, they want to do something that matters. They like being in a rural area, but they have other things to offer to the world. If you are living in Northwest Kansas and are not in banking, nursing, or teaching, it can be a disappointment. They see the value of raising their family here, but they are not fulfilled professionally. Remote work gives them the opportunity for a career and they can still have that time at home and no commute.”
There’s no question remote work can be a good fit. And watching someone experience that epiphany is also a highlight for Staples.
“I really like it when people have a ‘light bulb’ go on and they are able to think about something differently than they did before,” she said. “That ‘aha’ moment is usually somewhere in the process. A lot of people are lost and looking and not sure where they fit it. If I can guide them to their own answers where it gives them encouragement or hope – that’s why Rural & Remote is here.”
Staples admits remote work is not the only answer, but it is a valid response to the ongoing question of economic development for rural regions.
“Economic development in Northwest Kansas has been a topic for many, many years now and remote work is another answer – and it is a good one,” she said. “We now have the fiber, the connections and the ability to make it available to most people so I think it opens a whole new door for someone who didn’t think about it in that way before.”
That’s great news because it’s not just individual lives that are changed. Certainly, Staples knows she’s working with one professional at a time and one career. But the ripple effect is endless.
“We affect individuals, and when you add up individuals, you have a community,” she said. “Giving them the freedom to live where they want to live and have the kind of work/life balance – that’s huge. It can mean helping the family farm stay in business because the son can move back and his wife can work remotely as a graphic artist. It can mean getting a great teacher in your school system because her husband is an architect and can work from home.”
Staples noted these are just a few of the scenarios that are beginning to play out through the impact of Rural & Remote. They are the initial chapters in the bigger story that’s being written.
“Certainly, we help individuals,” she said. “But when you add all those up, you make a huge impact on communities. And we’re just getting started – there’s more to come.”