By Gaurav Kulkarni
Since the advent of the computer and broadband internet, the age-long discussion over the idea of working from home has been heated to say the least. Traditional office culture across the world has historically not been very conducive to this idea. Prior to COVID, we saw this to some extent with the ongoing taboo of working from home. In the US, working from home is almost a code for wanting to skip out on productivity, and those that are frequently engaged in it were looked at in a certain way. However, the situation has changed. With the COVID 19 pandemic, work from home has gone from a fringe experimental idea to something of a necessity to comply with social distancing orders put in place around the globe.This trend is most apparent within the tech industry where the nature of work plays well with this sort of situation. Silicon Valley giants such as Amazon and Google were some of the first to send workers home and will most likely be some of the last to bring them back. While there has been debate over well being, productivity, and happiness due to COVID 19, one thing is clear: the Pandora’s Box of remote working has been opened and companies will be keeping it on the table going forward, which could possibly result in interesting consequences.
One of the foremost consequences can be seen in the real estate market. Traditionally, big cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles have been so attractive to professionals in part due to their cultural merit but also because of their rich and innovative industries such as tech, finance, startup, and entertainment. Looking at San Francisco, the city is one of the most densely populated with tech companies with over 2000 and counting. It’s no secret that people move to these cities to take advantage of the career potential. But with the influx of COVID 19, something interesting happened back in march: there was something of an exodus away from the city with the housing vacancy in SF hitting almost 6.2%, a 2% increase from 3 months ago at 3.9%. It’s safe to deduce that people’s primary motivation to come to these cities is for the jobs, career opportunities, and chances to become successful. When there’s no reason to stay in the cities combined with tech companies’ willingness to accommodate employees’ moving we see an exodus. Google in July of 2020 announced that they would give staff until the summer of 2021 to continue working remotely and employees were free to sign lease agreements elsewhere. If employees can take advantage of these Silicon Valley jobs while not having to actually be in Silicon Valley, they could have the potential to change the face of big cities. The idea of living in the midwest or the south while making a Bay Area salary would most definitely entice a lot of people. While it’s a little too early to tell, the seeds have definitely been sown for this sort of development. Recently, companies across the country have been looking at downsizing their office spaces currently located in CBD’s across heavily populated cities such as NYC and San Francisco. Companies like Microsoft and VISA have plans to downsize permanently and allow remote work while Google is planning to implement some sort of hybrid model permanently. This sort of development is profound because it’s mutually beneficial to the worker and the company. Workers no longer have to move to where they live and to base their entire location and living situation around a job. They are also free to explore and choose to live somewhere that’s more ideal to their personal preferences rather than where their career would be best positioned.
Although it’s a little early to predict what sort of effects this could have, we could see some sort of stabilizing of the “coastal tech bubble”. There is a possibility for a sort of democratization of highly skilled workers across the country which could have the potential to revamp economies in flyover states. There is a possibility for companies to move their core operations to flyover sparsely populated regions of the US and we could see situations where housing markets in these cities become less expensive and reasonably priced, and allow passionate people to live and explore these cultural meccas at home here rather than burned out tech workers who are forced to live in big cities in order to sustain their careers. This would also allow lower income people without the means to move to these cities with the ability to move up and out of their economic situation; a possible stratification and income equality could occur with these easily accessible jobs that could change the face of the world. □
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