While companies have become increasingly comfortable with the idea that hybrid work arrangements are a permanent reality, they are still working to re-orient how they operate. In other words, the day-to-day function has mostly been a revision of our historical work environment. Companies have swapped out in-person meetings for Zoom calls, updated benefits to include home gym subsides instead of gym membership discounts and tried to lure employees back some days with free lunches or upgraded communal spaces. But this doesn’t fully reflect other, less obvious impacts of remote (whether full or partial) working. The changes have focused on what’s different at the office, or even what’s different in home office environments. However less has been written about the destination communities impacted by remote work.
The impact on communities depends largely on their pre-COVID state.
There has been robust reporting about workers who left major city centres for smaller cities and even tiny towns during Covid. In America, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco saw some of the largest departures. There was less of a justification to be in expensive areas if proximity to the office no longer mattered. And in the early days sheer fear of being in densely populated areas increased the exodus. But while we all wondered about the future of cities that workers left, we had not yet considered the impact of where they were arriving. In the U.S., places with lower rent and lower state taxes were an obvious draw. For others, scenic destinations like Bend, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest attracted Silicon Valley workers.
The first effect was that these destinations quickly saw a huge uptick in housing prices. But as the pandemic eased their presence in some cities was felt more concretely, in restaurants and bars and cinemas. Many of these workers have remained, either successfully advocating for fully remote work, or a hybrid schedule that allows them to remain where they are several weeks of the month or most days of the week. And more than expected by employers, many workers were willing to give up their job if it meant returning. They found jobs in the local market or took a remote opportunity with another employer or took an entrepreneurial route and began working for themselves.
In Bend, Oregon, nearly 75 percent of job seekers on LinkedIn are seeking fully remote work. One of the realities for the communities that received an influx during the pandemic is the permanence of the shift. Those who left for the remote work lifestyle, have left for good. While that has improved local economies, it comes with drawbacks. Not only has Bend seen soaring house prices (£400,000 to £750,000 is not uncommon now), but a housing shortage full stop. Some locals don’t welcome the change and according to one article bumper stickers that read ‘Don’t Move Here’ are appearing. (The traditional local bumper sticker is ‘Be Nice! You’re in Bend’).
The other major destinations that have seen a more fluid but still significant impact are those which are traditionally holiday locations. Initially, it was a welcome boon for an industry devastated by Covid. Flights began to fill as well as hotels or vacation rentals. With increased flexibility workers didn’t have to put in for leave, they simply could relocate for weeks or even months to sunnier, more beautiful places. Even now, hybrid work remains as much a negotiation as a policy, and workers who wish to untether from city life are doing it much more regularly. One study found that 75% of leisure travelers in America planned to extend their holiday to longer than pre-Covid durations, likely because holiday leave can now be combined with remote work time. The emerging term in the industry for these extended work-play stays, ‘bleisure’ (business + leisure, let’s hope it doesn’t stick), reflects the new more blended interpretation of what’s holiday and what’s work. And the supply is meeting the demand where it is: home rentals are the most popular as they provide more space and some feature home offices. While the definition of work has definitely changed, it appears that so has holiday.
Workers have moved. The changes in their destination cities might indicate the future.
Work changed tremendously in the last few years, and it is continuing to evolve. Expectations of workers are changing. So are the places we call workspaces. And even working remotely, is not as simple as the kitchen table solutions so many of used during the pandemic. It may be many years before we arrive at a new version, but for now it’s clear that there is no single answer to how we work. And that might not be a bad thing.
In terms of my background and expertise, I have spent my entire career working as a trusted advisor to senior leaders wanting to improve the effectiveness of themselves, their teams and their companies. Prior to starting my own consulting firm, I led the global executive assessment and development team for Cisco. Earlier in my career I held leadership roles with RHR International, PepsiCo, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School and the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.