Don’t look now, but the blue-collar remote work revolution is coming

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I saw the remote revolution at work in a dusty village in Northwest Africa.

I’m a digital nomad who lives internationally. Right now, I’m in Morocco, which is an amazing country to visit — and to work from.

Last week, on a drive from Essouira to Marrakesh, my wife and I stopped with some friends to visit an argan cooperative. Argan oil is produced in significant quantities only in this region of Morocco, where argan trees are endemic. The oil is used for both cosmetics and food. (Moroccans also use it, combined with almond butter and honey, to create a delicious breakfast dip for bread called amlou.)

To extract the oil, each nut has to be carefully cracked — a process that’s done by hand using stones. Machines that can crack nuts without destroying the kernel are prohibitively expensive, so the industry relies on human labor. It’s hard to do it right.

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This work is done by women, mostly uneducated rural Berber women with limited work prospects from very small villages. Normally, they sit together on rugs on the floor in rooms at the cooperative with between three and 20 women per room, cracking argan nuts and separating the kernels for the next stage in processing.

We visited the cooperative, expecting to find rooms full of women workers. Instead, we found — wait for it! — the argan workers had been working from home since the pandemic began.