Will Covid-19 hasten an exodus from large cities?

An image of cars leaving a city

Will Covid-19 hasten an exodus from large cities?

A photo of employee David Evans.

David Evans, Reputation Leaders

Covid-19 has accelerated preexisting trends in the way we work.  Virtual working and collaboration platforms have made remote working possible for white-collar workers for some time, but quarantine has accelerated the adoption of remote working. But as COVID-91 restrictions relax, many workers have warmed to the new way of working and are less keen to return to the office.

In our Reputation Leaders June 2020 research on What Workers Want with Manpower Group, we found that 43% of workers believe the pandemic marks the end of the office 9-5. After health concerns, workers are most worried about returning to an old way of working, losing the flexibility they have gained (Millennial parents in particular). This privilege extends mostly to white-collar workers, however, with 56% of IT and financial services workers expecting a better work-life balance after the COVID-19 crisis, versus 46% of those in manufacturing or retail.

William Fulton from the Kinder Institute identifies the following trends. Working from home means workers don’t have to live nearby to city offices. As such, workers are going to move out of the major cities and into satellite cities (e.g., Sacramento). Outer suburbs and market towns will also become popular options. Benefits will include less time commuting, greater work-life balance, more time with family, and more affordable, larger living spaces.  Will workers move far into the countryside totally out of reach of the big cities? Probably not. Most workers prefer 2-3 days a week in the workplace office balanced with the home office. So, some commutability will still be necessary. Essentially, we’re seeing a technology-driven expansion of the commuter belt.

What about blue-collar workers? They will likely form a second migratory wave. As white-collar workers move into neighboring urban centers, further infrastructure and retail jobs will follow. However unfairly, it is white-collar workers who will benefit the most from this technology-driven shift. Ultimately, Covid-19 has sped up changes in the way we work, which will create society-wide shifts in how and where people choose to live.