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US workers move full steam ahead on remote-first relocation

American workers don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon with their pandemic-era relocation plans: Almost one in 10 of respondents in an Upwork survey said they are planning to move because they can work remotely.

In Upwork’s October 2020 report, 6.1% of respondents said they were considering a move thanks to remote work. This is noteworthy, given that 2.4% of respondents in the new survey said they have already relocated from their pre pandemic home base.

This figure was 1.8% in October 2020. Not only are employees planning to move away from company headquarters, they’re also set on moves to non-commutable distances. Of the 9.3% who said they’re planning moves, 13% said they’re moving between two and four hours away. Another 28% said they are moving more than four hours away.

Dive Insight: Many workers may be miffed at the prospect of returning to a brick-and-mortar office. For those who can work remotely, the decision to do so may be more than a work preference and instead, a lifestyle choice.

Consider Robert Half’s March 2021 poll, wherein one in three respondents said they would start looking for jobs if their employer required a return to the office. Prudential’s pulse survey, conducted around the same time, also noted that 42% of remote workers said they would start job-hunting if their employer didn’t offer remote-work options.

Between Upwork's’ recent findings and the Great Resignation, the HR industry may need to brace for a renewed rift between employers’ in-office desires and employees’ affinity for WFH.

Adam Ozimek, who authored the 2022 Upwork report, underscored that “distance to the office, transit options, and commute times can be as significant as a home’s size, cost, and amenities.” Pre-pandemic, most people typically lived within an hour or less from their job, Ozimek, Upwork’s then-chief economist, said in the press release. “The rapid rise of remote work, however, weakens this tie. Remote work enables people, many for the first time, to choose where they want to live regardless of where their office is located or if there are nearby employers,” he said.

Ozimek acknowledged that Upwork’s data suggests a continued metropolitan exodus. But a phenomenon called “the donut effect,” coined by economists Arjun Ramani and Nicholas Bloom, could come to pass.

The major city is the donut hole, and the suburbs are the dough and icing that remote-capable workers will inhabit. What does this mean for HR? For one, geographic centers of talent will quite literally shift. Ozimek added that the donut theory assumes that the hybrid model, where employers require some days in office and allows workers to work remotely other days, remains.

Consider, as well, that 41% of workers surveyed by Prudential said they would not want to work for a company that is HR Dive news delivered to your inbox Get the free daily newsletter read by industry experts Work email address entirely remote. The other HR takeaway is that the hybrid work model may continue to be a utilitarian sweet spot amid the bitter conflict between workers’ needs and employers’ anxieties.

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