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Cities Introduce Relocation Initiatives to Attract Remote Workers

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Brooke Lynch

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Thousands of Americans have relocated since the start of the pandemic; while some made the move for more space, others saw it as a way to take advantage of lower rent costs or be closer to family. Although vaccines are being administered and employers are beginning to eye a slow return to the office, we will continue to see employees relocate for a better quality of life. 

Without a defined office space, many of these individuals are choosing to leave more populated urban cities like New York and Chicago and opt for rural areas. According to the 2020 National Migration Study, 57% of respondents cited employment changes or work arrangements as the reason for their COVID-19 influenced move. Remote work offered individuals the freedom to avoid sky-high rents and settle into affordable, laid back areas. 

With uncertainty over post-pandemic life still looming, cities are offering relocation plans and bonuses to attract adventurous remote workers. Northwest Arkansas launched a program after seeing success in neighboring state Oklahoma, offering $10,000 to successful applicants looking to make the move. The initiative began in 2018 but has since seen applications triple in the last six months during the pandemic. CEO Nelson Peacock noted that they wanted to take advantage of the lifestyle changes brought on by COVID-19, along with a broader shift in individuals’ priorities. 

Additionally, relocation initiatives are not limited to domestic moves; remote workers are heading to international cities as well. The Helsinki Business Hub announced a ‘90 Day Finn’ program to attract international tech workers to their city. The promotion received thousands of applications; Americans and Canadians maintained the most interest, accounting for 30% of the applications. The program provided assistance with documentation, housing, remote working facilities, and even introductions to tech networks. Although the initiative was created to attract global talent to the city, the majority of applications were from individuals looking to work remotely for their current employers. 

With all of these new programs, it’s important to consider the impact on the employee experience. Although they may offer dozens of material and monetary perks, employees have continued to complain about a lack of collaboration and increasing feelings of isolation in quarantine. These programs may benefit cities by importing top talent and new consumers, but will employees be disadvantaged by the lack of social interaction in new cities? Also, obstacles like new time zones and no overlapping work hours can provide further distance from the team environment. 

In contrast, how should companies navigate a future with their employees: if remote employees become acquainted with their new destinations, can their employer require them to come back? Although some companies are firm on their new remote policies, others may shift to a more flexible plan, one that requires employees to come in a few days a week. If companies like Google experience massive productivity gains with their flexible workweeks, others may follow suit and begin to bring employees back on a more permanent basis. Additionally, even if they do still allow some permanent remote employees, the remaining remote workers may begin to feel even more isolated from the team.

Ultimately, whether an employee is remote forever or just temporarily, they may take the opportunity to utilize some of these initiatives. Employers in 2021, then, need to continue to focus on sustaining engaged and happy employees no matter their location. Zoom happy hours and well-being check-ins will not be a thing of the past, and finding new ways for remote workers to collaborate will remain an important objective.


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