Work from home now has the potential to mean work from anywhere. We explore what this means for the future of our cities.
Before the events of the past 12 months, remote work was on the increase. Not only was it on the increase but the very concept of working from home itself was making many people question where they needed to live, if they were no longer tied to a permanent working location.
For many people the decision of where to live had been determined by the location of their office. Commute length, commute times, commute costs were all factors in where people choose to live, and for many being in the heart of the city where they also worked, was a priority. People choose to live in cities for many different reasons, but proximity to work is undoubtedly always one of the main ones.
For many people the decision of where to live had been determined by the location of their office. Image by Denys Nevozhai.
Not just proximity to work, but also being in the heart of an economic centre, and all of the potentials for career growth, networking, and employment opportunities such closeness afforded.
Many organisations however have made a significant shift to working remotely. The tech giants of twitter, Facebook and google all have large percentages of their employees working at home indefinitely. This move to work online means that the traditional role of a city as an economic centre is also changing as people and organisations are more dispersed across the globe.
So what happens to the future of our cities when many of us can essentially work from anywhere?
For many people, the shift to working from home, has brought many benefits- increased flexibility in terms of the working hours, and in terms of where they live. But the biggest benefit looks set to be greater freedom in choosing where to live.
The shift to working from home, has brought many benefits. Image by Willian Iven.
For those of us who can work remotely, we can work anywhere with a WIFI connection. So the attraction of moving out of crowded, congested, and polluted cities in search of more affordable homes, is stronger now than ever before.
What does this mean for our cities?
Despite the numbers of people leaving the cities, there are also plenty more ready to fill their spot. Cities attract residents for many reasons: their art and cultural scenes, their internationalism and diversity, their transportation links, their social and community scenes, as well as their support for innovation and business.
These factors will continue to attract people to the world’s main cities. But this does not mean cities can become complacent. They must understand that the world of work is changing, and proximity to a city office is no longer necessary for many workers and employees, or their employers. Cities need to focus on what makes them great places to live, for remote workers and those increasingly working only online and virtually.
To do this cities need to bolster what makes them great, while focusing on improving what is hurting their liveability scores. A greater push for more affordable housing is crucial if people are to remain in the cities, and even more so when those with the ability to work remotely can do so from anywhere. It also means a commitment to better quality housing which truly understands what city residents want from where they live.
They also need to understand better the gap between incomes and outgoings, and address the whole issue of affordability within a city- not just for housing, but for transportation, social experiences, and more.
Better understand the gap between income and outgoings. Image by Northfolk.
It means continued investment in green and open spaces, education, and the art and cultural scenes. Cities can still remain centres of the arts, and of innovation. They just need to put more effort into attracting individuals rather than large organisations.
It also is a good time for cities to embrace diversity and internationalism like they never have before. If people can work from anywhere- the attraction to travel internationally is also a strong pull for many. Many countries, including Barbados, are issuing work visas that make it easier for digital nomads to work from Barbados temporarily. Cities committed to attracting talented residents need to modify their visa processes in order to continue to attract workers.
This also might be a good time for second and third tier cities to grow- they might be able to offer remote workers more affordable housing, and living costs, and at the same time reduce the brain drain to leading cities. This in turn might lead to the creation of a network of flourishing, vibrant cities all with their own advantages and personalities.
There is the potential for this new way of working to mean more opportunities for all cities, regardless of their current size and perceived importance, to grow and flourish in new ways.
Co-living has long understood what the future of remote work meant for the very future of our cities. It has been aware, from the start, that cities needed greater variety in their housing options, and housing that brought together work spaces, including co-working units, and communal spaces. Co-living developments are perfect for remote workers and digital nomads, still wanting to call the city home- while also providing great places to work and build a community.