EDITOR’S NOTE: The Dennis Elam and Ray Perryman columns were incorrectly labeled in Sunday’s paper. We apologize for the mistake.
The pandemic created upheaval in multiple areas of Americans’ lives last year, including where they live and how they work. The overall volume of moves was down last year due to the complexity created by the virus, but the patterns were both enlightening and harbingers of things to come. While the U.S. population is always mobile in response to economic conditions and preferences, a recent survey by Hire a Helper found that about a quarter of 2020 moves were related to COVID-19, with the most commonly cited reasons being (1) escaping the worst of the pandemic, (2) losing a job or income, and (3) sheltering-in-place with or taking care of family.
Much of this movement has been from the densest cities to more affordable areas. Data from U-Haul shows that Tennessee had the largest net gain based on one-way truck movements, followed by Texas and Florida. Texas has ranked first or second for the past five years, due largely to a healthy economy. Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, and Georgia also ranked highly, while Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, and California fell at the other end of the spectrum.
Another reason has emerged for relocating during the pandemic — the flexibility of working from home. As technology fosters jobs largely independent of specific locations, many are rethinking where they want to live. The survey noted above found that, of those moving in 2020 due to COVID-19, 28 percent indicated that they no longer had to be close to work. Another study found that 14-23 million Americans planned to move due to expanded options for working virtually.
Whether these trends in relocations continue in the future will be partially driven by remote work policies following the pandemic. While there were many concerns over employee productivity with remote work, 83 percent of employers reported that the shift to remote work had been successful for their companies in a December PwC survey. More than half noted that average worker productivity actually increased.
While less than one in five executives indicated that they wanted to return to the same pre-pandemic office structure, even fewer were willing to abandon the office entirely. Many corporations are considering hybrid workplaces, where employees split time between the office and home. Businesses are also considering downsizing space in some high-demand locations and opening satellite offices to accommodate employees’ desires to live in less-congested, lower-cost cities. The number of square feet per employee may increase to accommodate safety concerns in the “new normal.”
The necessity of increasing flexibility during the pandemic is likely to yield greater creativity in how offices operate in the future. There are benefits for companies and employees, and technology will emerge to enable greater optimization for all. Stay safe!