Plagued by a housing crunch and the high cost of urban living, a growing number of U.S. professionals say they would prefer to leave the city, if they could be assured that their career and professional life wouldn’t suffer as a result.

According to a recent Citrix survey conducted by OnePoll, 70 percent of knowledge workers living in urban locations say they would move to broader metro or urban areas if they could perform their jobs to the same level. As the battle for talent heats up around the globe, it is imperative that companies listen to these individuals who are disillusioned with city living. We need to enable remote and flexible working policies to improve employee experience and allow employees to do their best work from any location — as well widen the ever-diminishing talent pool.

The Talent Crunch Is Real

McKinsey & Company estimates that in 2020 alone, organizations in Europe and North America will be short of 16 million to 18 million college-educated workers. And a recent Stripe and Harris Poll report found that 61 percent of C-Suite executives view access to developer talent as the greatest inhibitor to their growth aspirations.

Our work with OnePoll confirms the skills crisis is real, with 31 percent admitting that talent sourcing is a genuine problem in their organization and 18 percent expecting it to be a concern over the next five years.

Big City Living Has Lost Its Appeal

Seven in 10 of the 5,000 U.S. knowledge workers surveyed say they were lured to the city by attractive career prospects and the opportunity for professional growth. Additionally, 69 percent perceived there to be more highly skilled jobs available, and 66 percent were seeking higher salaries.

But these opportunities are coming at an unwelcome cost. According to the survey, 58 percent of U.S. workers say the escalating cost of city living has become “crippling” and 72 percent say they are unable to buy property. Consequently, the appeal of the city is waning, and many want out.

The City Office “Hub” Is No Longer Viable

Talent is becoming more geographically dispersed as the cost of city living rises and individuals want a say in the location or environment they work from. To attract the right people and skills, from anywhere, organizations need to rethink the traditional office and create more flexible working policies, allowing employees to work from wherever they choose to reside.

Some companies are on the path to doing so already, and 33 percent of respondents to our survey said they are introducing flexible/remote working policies to widen the talent pool. Additionally, 31 percent are currently searching for talent nationwide, including in rural areas.

The Future of Work Must Happen Faster

While business transformation is afoot, the pace of change is sluggish. Only 33 percent of individuals polled already work remotely at least one day a week, although 85 percent say they could do their job just as effectively from anywhere.

The benefits of flexible working are well understood. In the survey, 83 percent felt virtual working would enable them to strike a healthier work-life balance, while 69 percent said it would enable them to be more productive and focused. And 77 percent indicated they could save significant money by reducing their commuting costs.

The Gap Can Be Bridged

Technology can be a great equalizer, yet in many areas there remains a notable divide. Connectivity is cited as a key challenge by 58 percent of respondents, who said the current quality of broadband negatively impacts their ability to reliably work from home.

Encouragingly, the technology to enable flexible working is ready and available and has been for some time. SD-WAN solutions, for example, allow companies to provide consistent and reliable access to corporate systems and data to users in even the most remote locations. Digital workspaces give employees the flexibility to work anywhere, anytime from any device and be their most productive.

In creating a truly flexible workplace, companies can reach out beyond city limits to source the best talent, while employees can have choice in where they want to live, without their career prospects and professional development being restricted.