Will Remote Work Change Cities? Yes, If We’re Lucky

Image description: City skyscrapers at night. Photo by Peng LIU from Pexels

On March 29th the New York Times ran an article from Matthew Haag entitled Remote Work is Here to Stay. Manhattan May Never Be the Same. In it, Haag reports that “As more companies push back dates for returning to offices and make at least some remote work a permanent policy, the consequences for New York could be far-reaching, not just for the city’s restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses, but for municipal finances, which depend heavily on commercial real estate.”

If New York wishes to fund the services that keep the city functional, something has to give. Either everyone needs to go back into offices in the city (which isn’t a good idea before we achieve widespread herd immunity) or government officials need to rethink where they get their revenue.

Businesses are Incentivized to Keep Remote Work

Rethinking a city’s revenue mix is the strategic thing to do. The pandemic has been billed as a once-in-a-hundred-year event. However, assuming that the next catastrophe will happen in our great-grandchildren’s lifetimes (and therefore is something we can leave them to deal with) is short-sighted at best. Climate change has already led to more destructive hurricane and fire seasons. Many of the major cities of the world grapple with housing shortages.

Hefty real estate costs and adverse weather events give businesses solid reasons to offer remote work options for their employees. To put it bluntly, remote work is an important part of a company’s risk management. Remote work offers businesses the opportunity to lower costs and continue operating during disasters. No CEO in his or her right mind would give up that advantage.

If cities want to recover from the pandemic and remain relevant, then they need to operate as if employees have more choices about where they live and work. If a white collar employee can work from anywhere, then they don’t have to live in a 500 square foot basement apartment with eight other people.

It’s Time to Think About Cities Differently

People have to want to live in a city for other reasons. Personally, I love cities. Nightlife! Culture! Restaurants! I’ve lived in some great ones–New York, Los Angles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently I live in the suburbs of Vancouver. It’s quiet, and boring, and exactly the sort of place I need to stay because it has a good school for my kids and I can afford things like music lessons and summer camps. I would move to downtown Vancouver in a hot minute if 1) comfortable housing was affordable 2) there were good schools for my kids and 3) there were reasonably priced, family-centric activities to participate in.

Families move out of cities and into the ‘burbs because cities aren’t set up for anyone but the wealthy or the single. Let’s change that dynamic.

The technology that enables remote work has been with us since at least 2009. The only thing standing in the way of mass migration of white-collar jobs to remote work has been the old-school management mindset. The pandemic wiped away a great deal of that “remote doesn’t work for MY company.”

New York isn’t dead. No city has to die. But if the world’s cities want to keep up (and keep the revenue rolling in) then they need to shift along with the times.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

I’m in a toxic relationship with my printer. The thing generally refuses to print anything and blames me for the issue–it says I’m out of paper when I’m not. Then, just when I’m ready to throw it away I decided to try printing something one more time. And you know what? Magically it starts working. But not for long. Oh no. Just long enough that I hesitate to throw it out the next time it fails to perform.

There are very few times I wish I worked in a traditional office, but dealing with failing home office equipment is one of those times. I would LOVE to hand this problem to someone else to deal with. Sadly, I need to break up with my problematic printer on my own.

Recent Publications

I wrote a running-themed quarantine piece back in March 2020, and it took until February 2021 to find a home for it. In Zombie Run, I talk about finding safety as a woman running during quarantine.

For Weekly Humorist, Cassie Soliday and I teamed up to create a tongue in cheek piece on celebration our one year COVID anniversary entitled 5 Ways to Make Your Pandemic Anniversary the Best on the Block.

And last but not least, Bombfire just published my 100 word story Spores, which is a weird take on past experiences affecting the way we see the world.

I procrastinated about writing on my book this week, which is not good. Instead I wrote something else while will be showing up in Quarantine Review some time in August. I’ll share that when it comes out.

See you next time!

Author: Teresa

I am an analyst for Kaplan and a business writer. When I'm not analyzing numbers or trying to find the perfect phrase, I manage my obsessions for chai tea, knitting, and running in the woods.

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