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From Site Selection magazine, September 2021

Dislocation, Dislocation, Dislocation

If we can work from anywhere, everywhere is the right place to be.

by Adam Bruns

Remote work is full of paradoxes and ironies.

Start with that word: “remote.” It sounds like you’re far, far away, speaking into a tin can. But a fair number of suddenly remote workers have never been more present and accounted for.

It also lends itself to the easy joke: “You’re working remotely today? Not remotely working is more like it.”

Then there’s the hackneyed phrase “location, location, location.” Industry hubs are one thing. But the idea of certain places becoming hubs of remote work is inherently backward: If you can work from anywhere, the hub — like some sort of sci-fi concept — is suddenly churning everywhere at once. Gravitating toward common group workspaces just like the offices from which we’re now liberated seems unlikely.

When the Counselors of Real Estate, an international consortium of commercial property professionals, released their global report “Ten Top Issues Affecting Real Estate” in June, remote work and mobility was No. 1. Commercial real estate service providers have summoned a bevy of research and surveys ostensibly showing how necessary offices are to corporate culture. 

Some veteran office mavens might say, “There’s no way this remote thing sticks. They can’t stay away forever.” To which the dispersed work-from-anywhere crowd replies: “Watch me.”

In August, a Washington Post-Schar School poll found that nearly one-third of U.S. workers under 40 considered changing careers during the pandemic, and one in five has considered a professional shift. “Additionally, since the pandemic began, 28% of U.S. adults say they have seriously considered moving to a new community,” the Post reported, “and 17% say they had already moved, either temporarily or permanently.”

Triangulate Your Way to Happiness and Productivity

Employers and employees alike are increasingly comfortable with a future that involves work from anywhere, even if it means selling off a freshly constructed HQ as REI chose to do last year to Facebook in Bellevue, Washington’s Spring District. But that hybrid future only expands location decision-making from corporate real estate and facilities teams to each one of us. In other words, site selection has turned personal.

The best thing we can offer is a tour of the research. We’ll leave it to you to triangulate from the sources of your choosing to produce a matrix adaptable to your personal quest — or to the corporate quest to now cast a wider net to snare global remote-worker talent.
There is no shortage of guidance, from EMSI’s Talent Attraction Index to CBRE’s latest “Scoring Tech Talent” report (which features a growing number of emerging remote-work-friendly locations) or its latest report called “The Next Normal: How Hybrid Work is Transforming Commercial Real Estate.” Using data from its Global Benchmarking Services division, JLL in June stated, “Cities with tight occupational densities will likely see the most transformational changes in the use of office space. These cities fall into three groups:

  1. Global business hubs, like Hong Kong, London, and Singapore, with densities of 10 square meters per person or less;
  2. Business process outsourcing destinations, like Manila and Bengaluru, where business imperatives and intense usage of space have reduced densities to as low as 7 square meters per person;
  3. Emerging mega-hubs, such as Jakarta, Mumbai, Istanbul, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, which provide business services for large and growing national markets.”

Escape to new places doesn’t mean you’re going there alone, and that’s when rising housing costs become a concern. Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies in June reported that Boise, Idaho led the nation in year-over-year home price escalation at 28.2%, followed by rates over 20% in Austin and Tacoma.

The organization’s annual State of the Nation’s Housing report also found that growth outside big cities was taking place well before a pandemic forced everyone’s hand. During the 2016-2019 period, households in large metro cities (with 1 million or more residents) grew by just over 600,000, while small metro households grew by nearly 1 million and large metro suburbs saw their households explode by well over 1.2 million. The age of mobile work had already set in.

Among many issues for employers to consider are tax implications. Even as they may save money and reduce turnover, they and their employees will need to wrestle with the particulars.

"As of May 20, 2021, the percentage of paid remote job postings on LinkedIn grew 457% from the yearearlier share. Overall, 9.7% of listings across all industries now involve remote work, up from barely 2% a year earlier."

— George Anders, Senior Editor at Large, LinkedIn

“Although the pandemic and the resulting telecommuting arrangements will not have the same effect on all jobs, there is no doubt that the overall workforce will be increasingly mobile and not tied to a specific jurisdiction,” wrote Joyce Beebe, fellow in public finance at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, late last year. “State tax and regulatory issues, home office reimbursement for employees and workplace benefits are great starting points to engage in tax policy dialogues for tomorrow’s workforce and the future of work.”

The Shift is On

One of the most robust analyses of factors influencing work-from-anywhere location decision-making is the Work-from-Anywhere Index 2021 released in July by Berlin-based on-demand housing platform

Scoring global cities on an array of 17 factors including ease of remote worker immigration; income tax rate; internet speed and capacity; rents and cost of living; healthcare and COVID-19 vaccination rates; and gender, minority and LGBT+ equality, the Index named the top 75 global cities for remote workers, topped by Melbourne, Australia; Dubai, UAE; and Sydney, Australia. Tallinn, Estonia, and London round out the top five. (See a map depicting the top 20 on pp. 36-27.) Among the findings:

  • Only 10 cities in the study offer a ‘Digital Nomad’ visa: Zagreb, Prague, Lisbon, Reykjavik, Tallinn, Athens, Sydney, Melbourne, Dubai and Mexico City.
  • On average, Rio de Janeiro has the most affordable home office space (€119 per month), followed by Saint Petersburg (€139), and Istanbul (€169).

“The global pandemic has caused many people to reassess their personal priorities,” said Omer Kucukdere, founder and CEO at Nestpick, “revealing the benefits of remote working flexibility and provoking the question ‘Is it really possible to work from anywhere?’ What we’ve seen through our study, however, is that technology and employers have moved faster than infrastructure, with many legal barriers still in place for migrants who want to bring their job with them. Moreover, high earners are leaving business-focused cities to live in places that offer better day-to-day lifestyles, taking their purchasing power with them.

This trend will only become more popular as time goes on, so we believe that we will see more and more cities adapting to these new working conditions and benefiting from the economic boost that these workers inject into their economies.”

According to findings from the latest “Pulse of the American Worker Survey: Post-Pandemic Work & Life – Expectations from the American Workforce” fielded in late May by Prudential Financial, a quarter of workers still plan to look for a new job once the pandemic is over. Half of the 2,000 full-time employed adults surveyed say the pandemic has given them more control in deciding the direction of their career, and 48% are rethinking the type of job they want altogether. Among other findings: Nearly half of workers (46%) said they will have to learn new skills within the next year to do their current job.

“Job stability going forward will be based on the skills workers have to offer. Employers will be willing to pay a premium for talent with the right skills,” said Rob Falzon, Prudential vice chair. “At the same time, corporate America will need to step up and invest in their talent by offering skills training and enhancing on-the-job learning opportunities, such as through apprenticeship and rotation programs.”

The Hybrid Ideal

An earlier version of the survey released in March found that 87% of American workers who have been working remotely during the pandemic would prefer to continue working remotely at least one day a week, post-pandemic. Among all workers, 68% say a hybrid workplace model is ideal. That was a double-digit percentage point jump from last fall. According to the survey, 42% of current remote workers say if their current company does not continue to offer remote work options long term, they will look for a job at a company that does.

“For Prudential, working nine-to-five, five days a week in the office will be a relic of the past,” said Falzon. “A hybrid workplace is better for our business and our employees.”

Dice is a tech career hub connecting employers with skilled technology professionals. For “The State of Remote Work: Trends, Sentiments and Strategies,” Dice conducted a remote work survey of technologists. Sixty-one percent said they would prefer to work remotely at least half of the time, although only 24% said they can do so. The data showed that 7% of respondents said they would even take a 5% salary cut to work remotely. The survey also found that 37% of technologists believe that working remotely hasn’t caused problems for company culture, while only 5% believe it’s caused an extreme detriment.

According to “Internet Access and its Implications for Productivity, Inequality, and Resilience,” a paper released in July by the Aspen Institute’s Economic Strategy Group, “Moving to high-quality, fully reliable home internet service for all Americans (‘universal access’) would raise earnings-weighted labor productivity by an estimated 1.1% in the coming years. The implied output gains are $160 billion per year, or $4 trillion when capitalized at a 4% rate.”

Ready and Waiting

Remote worker incentive programs are pouring forth or under study in states and cities, among them West Virginia (whose program is tied in with free outdoor recreation opportunities); Connecticut; Louisiana; Oklahoma; Vermont; Virginia; Wichita Falls, Texas; Savannah, Georgia; and Sacramento, California, where the Greater Sacramento Economic Council’s #NextOutWest campaign sought to attract Bay Area tech talent in particular to make the move.

“Bay Area residents make up the largest portion of migrants outside the region looking to Sacramento with 72.4% of out-of-town searches originating in the San Francisco area,” Greater Sacramento Economic Council CEO Barry Broome said. “We want our region to focus on capturing young talent as we continue to attract companies to the Sacramento region, especially as they consider moving to a hub-and-spoke model.”

The Bay Area and Greater Sacramento share a workforce of more than 230,000 people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 93,387 Bay Area residents work in the Greater Sacramento region.

The website MakeMyMove, created in order to track offers such as these, lists more than 40 places offering cash for relocation, including Topeka, Kansas; the Shoals area of northwest Alabama; and northwest Arkansas.

Life Sciences Flex

The 2021 Life Sciences Workforce Trends Report released in June 2021 by the Coalition of State Bioscience Institutes (CSBI) found that 75% of life sciences companies indicate they are implementing, expanding, or considering implementing remote work options. “Corporate leaders report the transition to remote work was a major challenge, with some executives interviewed commenting on the initial ‘shock’ and ‘turmoil,’ ” says the report. “Ultimately, however, most of those surveyed report having persevered and finding an effective balance. While remote work represents a major upheaval, it has forced firms to consider and re-think longer-term space needs and plans for more permanent remote and flexible work arrangements (e.g., hybrid work-from-home and office models).”

“The notable and sizable exceptions to the remote work dynamic are the ‘essential’ on-site workers and teams operating manufacturing facilities and production operations; conducting work in laboratories; and in R&D functions where work-from-home is not an option,” CSBI reports. “This has created a dual dynamic for life science companies to work through as a leading R&D industry and advanced manufacturing sector going forward.”

Comments from unnamed life sciences executives told the story as well as any figures:

“If anything, remote work has opened opportunities to hire the best people from around the globe as long as they are in desk-based positions,” said one. “They will be able to continue working remotely as long as they want to.

We would not have been so flexible before.”

“The pool for recruiting and retaining talent expanded by allowing remote work,” said another. “We are now more open minded to non-local talent ... Opening the talent geographic net allowed us to attract higher levels of talent that weren’t there previously.”A survey released in July by The Conference Board found that, amid higher productivity, 43% of more than 3,600 surveyed workers “question the wisdom of returning to the workplace at all.” That’s a jump from the 31% who felt that way in January. Only 18% of CEOs feel the same. CEOs, men and baby boomers were the largest cohorts to have no concerns about returning to the workplace. “What’s striking is that the same workers who question returning to the workplace given high productivity while working remotely have also expressed greater concerns about mental health, stress and burnout,” said Rebecca Ray, PhD, executive vice president, Human Capital at The Conference Board. “This reinforces the need for companies to pay close attention to the well-being of their people in remote and hybrid work arrangements.” 

Working Remote
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Adam Bruns
Managing Editor of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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