- Many knowledge workers relocated during COVID, mostly to more affordable areas outside of financial centers.
- Now, 1 in 3 workers are prepared to seek new jobs if they were forced to return to the office.
As far as we can remember, work took place in the office, which hadn’t changed all that much in decades. Most employers balked at the idea of employees regularly working from home.
But when COVID came around, we jumped from one extreme to another. At the height of lockdowns, 42% of the workforce worked from home and without a set work schedule.
And how’d it go? Employees adapted and flourished in their new work lives. They were innovative, collaborative, and productive. In fact, 83% percent of employers say the shift to remote work was a success. Employers and employees alike got used to the new normal.
Workers have relocated
With employees free to work from anywhere, they started moving. According to the Pew Research Center, one in every five U.S. adults relocated because of the pandemic or know someone who did. Many even bought a home elsewhere before knowing if they had to return to the office one day.
Cities like San Francisco and New York City have emptied. Residential rents in San Francisco were down 27% at the end of 2020. The city’s office vacancy rate was 16.7% at the end of the year, 11 percentage points higher than the year before.
Many tech companies headquartered in the Bay Area embraced remote work. Facebook and Twitter announced their employers can work from home forever. Yelp is vacating its 140,000-square-foot San Francisco headquarters. Twitter, Dropbox, and Levi Strauss are selling large portions of their San Francisco locations.
Even Google announced just last week that they’re moving to a hybrid work model—where employees split their time between the office and home.
No future in the office
Now that we’re more than a year into working remotely, there’s an interesting turn of events: One in three professionals say that if they’re required to return to the office, they’ll look for a new job.
Employees report they want to work from home for comfort, the return of time previously lost to commuting, better work-life balance, and flexibility. They’re happy about staying home where it’s safe. They like knowing they can work not only from home but from anywhere.
Businesses have tough decisions to make
It’s clear that businesses have several tough decisions ahead of them. Do they summon their workers back into the office, risking a mass departure of their workforce? If they allow employees to choose their own locations and schedules, are their employees set up for success?
There’s no universal answer here, but businesses do have some options. For example, many organizations are looking at hybrid work models such as the one announced by Google, or a fully remote option like that of Salesforce.
Hybrid work: This offers employees some combination of working from home and at the office. One study found almost half of employees said they’d likely seek a different job if their employer didn’t offer a hybrid work model.
Remote work: Companies offering permanent remote work find that geography no longer limits them in hiring the best workers. U.S. employers are saving over $30 billion per day during the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing employees to work remotely.
Originally published May 12, 2021, updated May 13, 2021