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Hybrid Work Is Driving People To The Suburbs, Not To New Markets


Hybrid work may seem like a step into the future for the American workforce, but it looks to be turning back the clock on population movement.

Across the country, individuals and families have moved away from urban cores to less dense areas within their home markets, empowered to do so by the prospect of not commuting every day but not free to move to another metropolitan area altogether, a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research on Tuesday found.

"Overall, this finding suggests that the rise of so-called 'Zoom towns,' smaller cities across America that have been marketed as remote work hubs, may not represent a broader long-term trend," wrote the authors, Stanford University economists Arjun Ramani and Nicholas Bloom.

The NBER study used data from both Zillow and the United States Postal Service to track migration patterns and changes to real estate markets. Bloom said in an interview with Bloomberg that the dynamics between cities and their surrounding suburbs have been set back 10 to 20 years.

"City centers are going to be the price they were, say, in 2005," Bloom, who has been studying remote work for years, told Bloomberg. "Some people will pay the same rent and get bigger apartments, other people will pay lower rents for the same apartment and you’ll find they have a bit more spending power, and other adjustments will be that more artists will come back to the city centers — folks that were driven out. And maybe people that need to work in the business premises five days a week — who were priced out but are actually the very people that should be living in the city centers — will return."

As June begins, more companies are reopening their offices for the first time and finding that the majority of their employees want to return only on a more limited basis than before. A survey of over 9,000 employees in 11 countries by workplace advisory firm Accenture found that 83% of respondents prefer a hybrid working model, one that requires in-office days only 25% to 75% of the time.

Forerunners of hybrid work, like Google and Microsoft, have made public their strategies for juggling varied schedules and adapting their technology to facilitate interactions between on-site and off-site employees. The release of such plans serves the double purpose of giving blueprints to less well-resourced companies and advertising the technologies they sell to meet such new demands.