Intellor Logo

The impact of remote work on companies, communities

John Lovell

Massive competition between large cities for corporate headquarters may not be a thing of the past. But with the shift to remote work across large sectors of the economy, communities across the country have begun trying to one-up each other in their efforts to attract workers who are no longer tied to their company’s physical address.

For many people considering a move, the desire for less expensive, roomier housing is the strongest incentive. And with some employers deciding not to cut wages to match an employee’s reduced cost of living after relocating, cities and towns of all shapes and sizes now find themselves being considered by workers who in the past have gravitated to large tech hubs and coastal cities.

In their recent Wall Street Journal article “How Remote Work is Reshaping America’s Urban Geography,” Richard Florida and Adam Ozimek detail the many ways municipalities of all sizes are positioning themselves as viable options for the many Americans looking to move because of COVID. So-called “Zoom towns” are being created in smaller cities (like Bozeman, MT) and rural communities (like Woodstock, NY), and the domino effect of these changes will need to be carefully considered.

As Florida and Ozimek state, “Over time, the competition for talent could shift to places that offer the best combination of quality of life, affordability and state-of-the-art ecosystems to support remote work.” Those communities that aren’t able to keep up with these trends may find themselves facing a continued economic downturn, while those that do tick these boxes will need to do more than attract population to achieve sustained growth.

On the plus side, we are seeing increased investment in public services such as education and transit, moves that benefit both new and current residents alike. Service industries also grow in these communities in a natural effort to meet the needs of remote workers, many of whom now find themselves with more disposable income.

On the other hand, those areas highly dependent on office buildings filled with workers may have to find new uses for emptied offices and develop plans to bolster restaurants and bars who could falter as their clientele moves from the community. Solutions to these problems could come in the form of developing co-working spaces, and emptied malls “retrofitted as remote-work hubs.”

Employers across the country will need to be flexible while developing new HR policies around who qualifies for remote work and whether those living in less costly communities will also face a reduction in pay. Companies will need to make online conferencing even more integrated into their daily workflow, investments may need to be made to ensure workers have the technology they need to thrive, and they may need to acquire co-work leases for remote staff in need of in-person meeting space.

Whether you consider these changes, precipitated and escalated by a pandemic that has altered everyone’s lives, as positive or negative may depend on how well positioned you or your company are to embrace this shift to remote work. But one thing is certain: clinging to the old model of brick-and-mortar work will not be effective for most industries. Examine your business’s productivity over the past year, consider the pull your employers may feel toward communities several hundred miles away from your headquarters, and develop ways to retain your talent in an era where people no longer have to consider an employer’s physical location when considering where they wish to make a home.