Attracting Remote Workers to Your Community
How is your community positioned to take advantage of the emerging post-pandemic remote workforce?
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The New Normal
Before COVID-19 upended workplace norms, around 3% of U.S. workers teleworked on a regular basis. COVID-related impacts have forced employers to rethink the ability to work from distance and shift large segments of the workforce to remote work. Once a luxury for c-suite executives or for workers in only a handful of industries, remote work has become the new norm for workers in nearly every industry and in positions up and down the org chart. A University of Chicago analysis revealed that up to 34% of U.S. jobs can plausibly be performed at home.
It’s likely that these changes are here to stay. A recent Gallup poll indicated that 59% of workers would prefer to work remotely as much as possible following COVID-related restrictions on business closures. Another found that 74% of workers believe that flexible working has become the “new normal.”
A Profound Change
For knowledge workers, and increasingly throughout all sectors of the economy, the ability to work remotely means that workers do not have to live near the physical addresses of their workplaces. Trends of U.S. workers looking to escape dense urban areas have begun to show up in real estate data. Reuters reports that searches for rural properties are up 125% year-over-year. Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, says demand has flipped away from cities and to rural areas, calling the switch a “profound, psychological change among consumers who are looking for houses.”
Suburban and rural communities are looking to capitalize on this switch by attracting remote or hybrid workers as part of a community and economic development strategy. Which workers are most likely to move? And what factors will attract these workers? And can this lead to an opportunity where a community with a strong base of certain occupations can recruit ‘virtual’ companies as employers but without a physical presence.
Remote Work is Factoring into Moving Decisions
According to the Census, each year, roughly 40 million Americans, or about 14% of the U.S. population, moves--either across town or across the country. Combined with the emergence of remote work, these movers represent an opportunity for suburban and rural communities. In a recent report from Zillow, more than half of home buyers who work remotely say remote work influenced a major home change, whether that’s moving to a different house (28%) or to a different location (24%).
These trends may be accelerating. A Pew Research poll found that one-in-five U.S. adults (22%) say they either changed their residence due to the pandemic or know someone who did. Early indicators for 2021 indicate that this year may be bigger for movers than the last. A recent poll found that 20% more Americans plan to move in 2021 than in 2020.
Factors like a lower cost of living, access to cultural amenities and outdoor recreation, and ability to purchase a home are already driving young workers to relocate away from large cities. A report from the Brookings Institution found that even before COVID-19, U.S. cities’ growth was stagnating. The report noted that, “In recent years, young adult movers—who comprise an outsized share of all movers—were more willing and able to locate to smaller areas in all parts of the country and increasingly to suburbs.” As remote work becomes the norm, suburban and rural areas that are already seeing an uptick could continue to grow and offer an attractive alternative to city living.
Competition for Remote Workers Will be Fierce
Some areas outside cities may grow from in-migration of remote workers, but others will be left behind. Competition for remote workers will be fierce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs with the ability to work remotely are most typically found in higher paying industries and remote workers earn more than their in-person counterparts, meaning that they are more likely to own homes and pay property taxes in the communities where they live. Remote workers can also contribute to a community’s ability to weather the impacts of the pandemic, with remote workers three times less likely to lose their jobs than non-remote workers in the early months of the pandemic. All of this makes them attractive targets for recruitment.
As communities look to be Remote Ready they need to evaluate broadband infrastructure, consider lifestyle amenities and create co-work, hybrid, or collision spaces, and offer tailored programs and services specifically for remote workers.
This work has already started in a number of places, for example:
Maine Broadband Coalition seeks to build robust and productive information technology infrastructure to improve economic competitiveness in rural areas.
Tulsa Remote offers a relocation incentive to remote workers who move to and work from Tulsa.
TeleworkVA works with employers and employees in Virginia to prepare for and manage telework operations.
Rural Online Initiative of Utah provides training and certifications for freelancers, entrepreneurs and other professions to work remotely within the gig economy.
Remote Worker Grant Program incentivizes remote professionals to move to Vermont to work in a home office or co-working space there.
Savannah Technology Workforce Incentive is part of a broader incentive package for tech companies.
CoworkCafe in Arlington, VA is a unique idea of turning restaurants into coworking spaces in the morning.
Switchyard Brewing in Bloomington, IN combines a brewery alongside a co-working environment.
With remote work increasingly becoming the new normal, communities that prioritize investments in creative initiatives will have a leg up in attracting the emerging post-pandemic remote workforce.