Welcome to the ‘Zoom Town’: Remote working has employees on the move

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As the pandemic came to dominate all our lives over the past year, if you happened to relocate — either by choice or necessity — then you’re not alone. All told, 1 in 20 Americans, or 5% of the population, moved because of the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a Pew Research poll, while 11% of U.S. residents aged 18 to 29 years old did. Financial strain was reported as the primary reason people packed up.

Looking ahead, most of those who are likely to move over the next three months are in their 30s and have more in savings and assets than the national average, according to a study by Audience Town, an ad tech platform for real estate and home marketers.

The trend promises to “redefine the national landscape,” said Audience Town CEO Ed Carey. “People are moving in huge numbers, and it’s going to be a massive year for residential real estate,” he added — noting that low-interest rates, the desire for more room and the freedom of working from anywhere are among leading factors driving the booming home sales market. 

Many workers assume they’re not going back to the office like it was before and plan to buy a bigger house with more space and amenities. “They’re paying a premium to do that,” Carey said, noting that many buyers, due to a historic shortage of properties on the market, are offering multiple the listing price.

While economic hardship has forced many to relocate, others are opting for a change of scenery and rhythm as the remote workplace trend has afforded them an unprecedented level of flexibility as to where they plant their roots — leading to the rise of what Carey and others have dubbed “the Zoom city.” 

As has been widely reported, many Americans — working from home, conducting meetings via Zoom — are saying farewell to large, costly metros like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco in favor of more affordable destinations like Miami, Austin and Nashville. The pandemic and the embrace of WFH by employers and employees alike have positioned smaller cities — and even distant coordinates like Idaho, Montana and Utah — to compete with the coastal business capitals.

Other stats revealed in the Audience Town report include:

  • 11.7 million Americans are expected to move between April and June this year
  • 17.5% are business owners — making business owners 59% more likely to move than the overall population
  • 17% hold executive management titles — 65% above the baseline population
  • 16% have assets of more than $500,000 — 7.6% above the norm
  • One-third of likely movers are based in four states: California, Texas, New York and Florida

This moving frenzy has potentially huge implications — not only for the housing industry and the economies of numerous smaller markets — but for employment trends as well.

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The exodus from big cities and the rise of WFH have proved advantageous for companies like Acceleration Partners, a Boston-based global affiliate marketing firm with clients including Marriott International and Adidas.

“It helps us identify talent in a wide range of areas, rather than competing with other firms in a single geographic talent pool,” said Acceleration Partners CEO Robert Glazer. “It gives our employees more flexibility about where they want to live. While some people love living in the big city, a lot of people don’t. They’d rather pay less for more space, be in a quieter neighborhood, be closer to family, or any other number of examples. Being remote gives our people the opportunity to design a lifestyle that works for them.”

Creative shops also stand to benefit from the wide dissemination of highly qualified candidates. 

“Agencies have a long-standing reputation for being an in-office culture, and one that does not typically hire people unable or uninterested in relocating to their market — in other words, not quite hospitable to remote workers,” said Kelsey Wilkins, associate creative director at San Francisco agency MUH-TAY-ZIK / HOF-FER, which has done work for brands like Audi and Door Dash. “That has been limiting when it comes to reaching talent from a variety of backgrounds — especially if we take into consideration that the San Francisco Bay Area has one of the highest costs of living in the country.”

Trends like WFH and access to the best people, wherever they happen to live, have dramatically altered the talent pool — and, as Wilkins observed, “shifted how agencies hire for the future.”

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