The increase in remote employees has been a big discussion since the beginning of the pandemic. In mid-2020, which was the height of COVID-19, roughly 62% of the workforce was working remotely. As of today, remote workers make up about 39% of those employed. Although there has been a decrease in remote arrangements, it is obvious that the work from home environment may be here to stay which can pose some challenges to cities.
Currently, communities are focusing on supporting commuter transit and providing housing within a close distance to transportation. Today, cities may need to change their realities from helping citizens have a better commute to promoting broadband availability, shared workspaces, as well as providing more competitive tax rates as they try to bring new workers who live elsewhere to their area.
Cities should consider building more spread-out housing since a majority of the workforce no longer needs dense housing near commuter transportation. Citizens will also need better access to internet services since they rely on connectivity to complete their work. It could also be beneficial for cities to create public work sites as remote staff still craves social interaction and may even desire a break from household distractions.
Once the pandemic comes to an end, it has been found that most companies expect their employees to work remotely 30% of the time. This tells us that work from home arrangements will continue for years to come.
The large increase in remote workers has made some businesses take a hit. For example, downtown businesses in New York notice that a single worker generally spends around $15,000 a year on shopping, food, and entertainment near their place of employment. Unfortunately, if 39% of the workers are staying home to work, then these businesses are most likely experiencing a decline in traffic and revenue.
Cities have also noted that remote work has also decreased commercial property values which in turn reduces property tax revenues. To combat these hits, communities are doing what they can to try to bring more employees back into the office.
However, this can be a difficult task when employees enjoy the flexibility of working remotely and have become accustomed to their new lifestyle. In New York City, it was found that the market value of office buildings decreased to $28.6 billion in 2022. This has brought about the first drop in taxable values in more than 20 years.
Although cities may be encouraging businesses to bring their employees back to the office, this has been a difficult task for companies as they have received backlash from staff. Many employers are feeling pressured by their staff to keep working from home as an option, which has caused some employers to push their back-to-the-office plans to the back burner.
For example, many Apple workers wrote in a letter signed by 1,445 current and former employees that they feel commuting to and from the office should be considered a huge waste of time as there isn’t a need for them to actually be on site. Due to the push back, Apple has decided to remain in-office for only two days a week, which allows employees to have 60% of their time working from their home.
Overall, if cities want to combat the damages that work from home is causing to their economy, they should consider trying to attract businesses that require employees to show up to the office or work in person. These industries could include transportation, energy, or construction. Although cities may be hurting due to the new work environment, they should consider focusing on creating a high quality of life for current residents. Cities that once emptied out at night when commuters departed to their suburban locations could now start to attract more full-time residents who work from home.