Why today’s urban flight is good for employee well-being

Accelerations in remote work adoption have also sped up worker migration away from big cities. This urban flight is a powerful disrupter of traditional work styles—and could launch a new era of employee wellness.

ARTICLE | 6m read
February 26, 2021

For most of the last century, work was a place you went, not a job you did. This forced the majority of employees to live near their place of work—and with many industries consolidated in large cities, it’s little surprise 82 percent of North Americans lived in urban areas in 2018. The rise of remote work has changed this. Today, tech giants like Google and Twitter are embracing flexible work and even allowing employees to work remotely for as long as they like. With workers much less tethered to living where they work, we’re seeing a striking reversal of migration away from dense urban areas.

This urban flight movement represents a great opportunity for both organizations and employees. Companies that embrace flexible work will see benefits like improved productivity, reduced office expenses, and easier recruiting, but the benefits to employees are at least as important. By providing employees with the right technology to live and work where they want, organizations can create a company culture where employee well-being will thrive.

How increasing employee choice over where they live improves their well-being

By empowering workers to work where they choose to live, organizations can increase employee agency—and with it, their well-being. One of the most important aspects of urban flight is allowing more people to afford more space and purchase homes. Take the example of Citrix Senior Brand Strategist Nick Chow, who left Alameda, a suburb of San Francisco, for La Quinta, CA. “Homes here are 25–30% of the cost of a home in the Bay Area, so we could afford to become first-time homeowners,” Chow said.

For remote workers like Chow, urban flight has given him the opportunity to slow down and choose a home for his own happiness instead of simply where his work was located. For many former urban dwellers, just having more space has had a huge impact on their wellness. As Chow described: “The move has had a huge impact on our ability to maintain our well-being. Not only do we have more indoor living space, but we now have a big yard that keeps us active and outside. I also have a home office for the first time. Having a separated space that is dedicated to work has had a huge impact on my ability to ‘shut off’ at the end of the day.”

HAVING A SPACE DEDICATED TO WORK HAS HAD A HUGE IMPACT ON MY ABILITY TO ‘SHUT OFF’ AT END OF DAY.

Nick Chow
Senior Brand Strategist
Citrix  

Why increasing employee choice with flexible work benefits organizations

In addition to supporting better worker wellness, increasing employee choice over where they live in a flexible work model also benefits organizations. Consider remote work’s impact on long commutes. Before the pandemic around 90 percent of Americans drove to work, with an average commute of 27 minutes. Cutting this daily commute is one explanation for why many remote employees are more productive than their in-office counterparts. As Chow put it: “My commute is now 0 minutes long. Being able to start my day while I’m making coffee makes getting an early start so much easier.”

Even if your organization doesn’t want to do away with its shared office, a flexible work model that splits work-from-home days and in-office days offers the benefits of both. ViacomCBS is embracing this kind of hybrid work model, which allows them to keep the productivity gains of remote work while setting in-office days for employees to collaborate in person. This not only gives their employees more flexibility, but also reduces ViacomCBS’s real estate and overhead costs.

Why the right technology is crucial to the success of flexible work

The urban flight movement promises a new era of employee health and flexible work. But for organizations to take advantage of this shift, they need the right technology in place to create a flexible work culture that seamlessly connects employees in and out of the office. For example, the varying quality of broadband solutions outside major cities means organizations will need networking solutions that optimize slower connections without disrupting the employee experience. Technology like this enables a great work experience on any device and in any location, empowering your employees to take their workspace wherever they get their best work done.

Beyond specific solutions, focus on building a company culture that embraces remote work technology and distributed collaboration. You want employees to embrace that their remote colleagues are just as much a part of the team as the person working in the same building. As Chow described: “The irony of being remote is it’s connected me with a broader intersection of the company than I met working in our Santa Clara office. The mass movement of all our employees working remotely meant we were all figuring it out together, reaching out and socializing via slack and digital events. We formed a foundation of trust before we ever collaborated on a work project.”

A culture of flexible work is a culture of employee well-being

The urban flight movement doesn’t mean cities are over, but it is a sign of workers taking advantage of the newfound freedom of flexible work. Now that your employees have worked remotely, they expect more flexibility in where and how they get things done. By providing employees with the right technology to live and work where they choose, your organization can establish a culture of flexible work—which is also a culture of employee well-being.

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