- People are leaving big cities, even if just for a moment, and moving to so-called ‘Zoom Towns’ — which promise a new life with attractive incentives.
- The number of people leaving big urban centers was around 15% higher in 2020 than in 2019, but the majority of people aren’t moving too far.
- The longevity of Zoom Towns will depend on whether business leaders are prepared to make the shift to a fully flexible workplace.
As the world sheltered in their homes simultaneously in early 2020, many workers living in high-density cities retreated to the safety and space of the suburbs and countryside.
This migration pattern is fascinating — it revealed the innate need for humans to be closer to nature and wide open spaces.
But is this trend part of a temporary, existential need for reevaluating life’s values? Is it out of financial necessity? Or will the world soon return to the nonstop work ethic that is embedded in our culture?
Migration patterns over the past year have been telling.
According to research from CBRE, the actual number of people leaving big urban centers was around 15% higher in 2020 than in 2019. However, the distance in which these people moved was short, commonly to nearby counties and other surrounding areas.
Even more, of the 29 million address changes that were recorded by the USPS in 2020, zip codes that were impacted by people leaving only grew by less than 5%.
So what does this tell us? Simply put, people are not moving far from their homes.
Although this short distance could indicate that moving to smaller cities is temporary, some may find that suburban living is their ideal choice. Without a commute, remote workers can enjoy small-town living, while still being relatively close to big-city amenities.
It should also be noted that these moves may not have derived from the need to be in tune with nature — it also reveals a deeper insecurity that could plague portions of society for years to come.
Living in smaller, suburban areas provides workers with numerous benefits, especially during a time of great uncertainty.
For one, financial insecurity has heightened since the beginning of the pandemic, leading people to find ways to cut down their overall expenses.
In fact, research about employee engagement noted that financial security was the top factor that impacted worker engagement and productivity.
Because of this slight exodus from urban centers, rental rates have seen a decrease across major markets over the past year.
Simultaneously, rent has gone up in secondary cities like Nashville and Kansas City. However, these costs pale in comparison to places like New York City or San Francisco.
This makes a huge difference for people who have found themselves in once-in-a-lifetime predicaments. Maybe a person has shifted to remote working arrangements, while their spouse has been laid off. Living off of one income would lead anyone to seek an overall lower cost of living.
Whether it be life-altering events or simply the desire to get away from the madness that big cities have brought during the pandemic, one thing is certain: people are leaving big cities, even if just for a moment.
So where are these so-called ‘Zoom Towns’ actually located?
While, yes, many people are flocking to the suburbs out of necessity, some cities are actually marketing themselves as an oasis for newly remote workers.
For instance, take Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The city launched its Tulsa Remote program last year in an effort to bring in new remote workers and contribute to the area’s economy.
Through this initiative, workers receive $10,000 to cover relocation expenses, provide participants access to a local coworking space and offer a guide on the best areas to live in Tulsa.
Tulsa is just one of many cities that have propped themselves up as a vibrant alternative to the expensive cities that typically attract top talent.
Another area that has seen an increase in new residents is Truckee, California, which is near Lake Tahoe. But more enticing, it’s three hours away from San Francisco and has a median home cost of around half of the big city.
Other areas commonly seen as vacation destinations are also seeing an uptick in new residents, such as The Hamptons, which has subsequently seen a 25% increase in home costs.
Aside from Manhattan and San Francisco, most cities are seeing a surge in housing costs. Still, these expenses are significantly lower, allowing people the option for larger living arrangements to accommodate their work-from-home environment.
Will It Last?
It’s no wonder why these towns have been incredibly enticing over the past year-and-a-half.
Not only are they cheaper than many cities, they offer a sense of relief from the panic that has plagued dense populations.
But will it last?
Zoom Towns, while ideal in the midst of a pandemic, may not have the long-lasting effect that cities offering remote work incentives may hope.
While it’s true that some migraters may realize they prefer living in secondary cities or the suburbs and stay put, ramped up vaccination efforts are causing companies to bring their employees back into the office.
Since some companies are attempting to return to pre-pandemic work arrangements, workers who have left the city could be facing longer commutes than ever before.
The resiliency of Zoom Towns depends on how willing business leaders are to embrace modern work practices.
Many companies are fully embracing remote and hybrid work policies that merge both onsite and offsite working, which means that new Zoom Townies could remain put in their new homes.
However, the longevity of Zoom Towns will rely heavily on how business leaders guide their businesses into the post-pandemic future, and whether they are ready to make the shift to a fully flexible workplace.