Upwork Study Says 19 Million Americans Plan On Relocating Due To Remote Work—Is This Likely Now That Omicron Subsided? – Forbes

Upwork, the go-to platform for freelance workers, released a new data report on remote working trends. The massive survey conducted with more than 23,000 people in the United States showed that the greater ability to work remotely is leading to new migration patterns for Americans. The report found that 9.3% of people—representing nearly 20 million Americans—are planning on moving because of remote work.

Before the pandemic, most Americans sought work within a reasonable commuting distance, as they didn’t have many other options. The virus outbreak changed where you could work, without worrying about the arduous commute. When Covid-19 hit, companies quickly told their people to work from home. For the following two years, remote became the standard way of working. During this time, workers were highly productive, companies profitable, and up until recently, the stock market hit all-time highs, showing the success of the remote work model.

Fortunately, the recent wave of Omicron has subsided. Mask mandates were dropped and tight Covid-related restrictions were lifted. As cases decreased, companies started calling for people to return to the office. The hybrid work model, in which employees are asked to come in two or three days a week, has become the new work style adopted by a large array of companies.

The study says that a significant 28% of people said that they are moving more than four hours away. Another 13% said they are moving between two and four hours from their current residence. The distance is relevant since it’s too far to commute on a daily basis. This means around 18.9 million people plan to move because of remote work, and chose a location that they wanted, and not because it’s close to an office.

Highlights of the study

  • Remote work has already sparked moves: 2.4% of people, or 4.9 million Americans, say that they have already moved because of remote work since 2020.
  • More moves to come: 9.3% of people, or 18.9 million Americans, are planning on moving because of remote work, compared to 6.1% in October 2020.
  • People are moving outside commutable distances: 28% of people said they are moving more than four hours away. Another 13% said they are moving between two and four hours away.
  • Cities most likely to see people move away will likely meet a few criteria: Areas with both high cost of living and many jobs that can be done remotely are the most likely to experience out-migration. This is likely to include superstar cities, like San Francisco and New York City.
  • The effects of remote work on geography are just beginning to unfold: The number of people who have relocated is likely just the start of a larger reshuffle, since the data suggests that there are strong reasons to suspect longer-term moves will rise.

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There are some new updates that may challenge the study’s predictions. In a survey, what people say they are “planning” to do is not necessarily what they will actually do. This is especially relevant when it comes to selling your home, packing up all of your belongings, taking the kids out of their schools, moving to a new place and having to start all over again. It’s easier said than done.

The mood of the country has changed. Weary of pandemic restrictions, coupled with states repealing mask mandates and loosening up restrictions, businesses have felt more comfortable pushing their employees to return to an office setting.

If this was six months or a year ago, a mass exodus from New York City and San Francisco to lower-cost cities with less taxes, good schools and great weather was more likely to happen. Now that Omicron has subsided, Dr. Anthony Fauci disappearing from the public eye and the mass media pulling back their fear porn, companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, along with Wall Street investment banks Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and JPMorgan, were emboldened to rev up their return-to-office plans.

While promoting remote and hybrid work, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Meta have been building, leasing and purchasing real estate. This signals their interest in getting workers back to headquarters.

President Joe Biden, in his State of the Union address, called for workers to go back to their offices, saying it was time to “fill our great downtowns again.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that pandemic-era work habits were reversing course. Telecommuting workers dropped to 13%, down from 15.4% the month prior, which is well below the pandemic-era high of 24.3% in August 2020.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams met with 100 chief executive officers in an effort to cajole them “to get their workers back into the office to stimulate the city’s economy.” He told the business leaders that it was time to get their workers back in offices, stating that the lack of people commuting into the Big Apple hurts the city’s economy. Adams said, “We can’t send mixed messages [by delaying the return to work dates.] We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”

“Let’s start out with a three-day workweek, to let people see how safe it is to come back to work, then we cycle back into a five-day week,” the mayor said. He added, “Now is the time for us to get back. I’m hoping within the next few weeks, the CEOs map out a real plan of ‘this is when you need to come back.’”

Adams explained his thought process. The local economy depends upon people coming into New York. “That accountant from a bank that sits in an office, it’s not only him. It feeds our financial ecosystem. He goes to the cleaners to get his suits cleaned. He goes to the restaurant. He brings in a business traveler, which is 70% of our hotel occupancy. He buys a hot dog on our streets; I hope a vegan hot dog, but he participates in the economy.”

With small businesses closing and light foot traffic, crime and violence will keep increasing. The threat of physical safety would deter others from going into work in large cities. A downward spiral would follow. Smart executives will understand this and do whatever it takes to entice workers back. They may resort to offering extra compensation or bonuses for them to come back.

There is a big incentive for politicians, landlords, corporate executives and business owners to get commuters to return. Consider what would happen if workers don’t return to the Big Apple. It could cause a cascade of business closures. Without the throngs of workers commuting into New York, restaurants, bars, gyms, shops and stores may be forced to close down due to the lack of customers. The deserted landscape could create a vacuum in which crime, violence and open drug usage worsens. This would discourage people who were considering going to the office or tourists coming into town to enjoy a Broadway show and dinner.

The tax revenue will fall, which means that city officials will be forced to cut both services and municipal workers. With fewer garbage collectors, firefighters, police officers, teachers and hospital personnel, the quality of life would suffer. The prior decisions made by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley telling their employees to return to the office may have also been prompted by a need to save the city from demise.

We’ve already seen an alarming increase in crime and violence in New York City. Wall Street executives told younger bankers to return to the office, but that they should also be vigilant and careful. Bank of America suggested that bankers, brokers, traders and other personnel should keep a low profile. By avoiding dressing too fancy, wearing expensive jewelry and watches or prominently displaying the bank’s logo, they may go undetected and not catch the eye of a possible assailant. There have been horrendous acts of senseless violence perpetrated in the train stations, as well as the streets of the Big Apple.

The big trend that makes a difference is the hybrid work model. The survey suggests that moves will be primarily away from big city centers to nearby suburbs, due to the ascension of hybrid work. This model would prevent people from moving to locations that are not conducive to commuting, as they’ll be needed to go into the office.

This new trend is referred to as the “donut effect” according to Economists Arjun Ramani and Nicholas Bloom. The term is used because it will push down demand in cities and push up demand in the suburbs.

You won’t be apt to move if the company may require you to return. A far-away place would be unlikely, unless the person is willing to quit their job and find a remote opportunity. It’s more reasonable to presume that a family would relocate to a nearby suburb or exurb. The commute may be longer, but the person would rationalize it’s only for two or three days a week.

There is an inherent risk if a person moves too far from a city. Their employer, who promised remote work, may later revoke this privilege. If there aren’t other businesses offering comparable jobs, you’ll be forced to move again or find a remote role. This might not be too much of a problem as there are still a large number of companies in an array of sectors that are either remote-first or open to hiring people who will work from home.

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