In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution created the rise of the “boom town.” These were cities, often on the West Coast, where entire economies and urban housing complexes seemed to spring up almost overnight.
Today we’re seeing the development of a new type of city: the “Zoom town,” or cities that are increasingly populated by permanently remote workers. The name refers to the ubiquitous videoconferencing platform. But “Zoom” could also potentially apply to the local economies and culture of cities, like Austin, Denver, and Charleston, that remote workers are increasingly attracted to. Planet Money recently defined Zoom towns “as places that are booming as remote work takes off.” A new New York Times survey found one in three remote workers said they would move to a new city or state if remote working continued—suggesting that the Zoom town trend is here to stay—while Airbnb reported that it’s seeing a similar migration to Zoom towns emerge among guests seeking longer-term stays.
The Trend Toward Remote Work
More of us than ever have become familiar with remote work over the past year, in what Human Resources executive called “a grand HR experiment” that sent about one-third of the U.S. workforce to makeshift home offices.
Other evidence suggests that this experiment may become reality—in part because the trend toward remote work was already accelerating pre-pandemic.
Take the tech sector for an example. Facebook estimates that 50% of its workforce will be working outside a company office in the next 5-10 years. Twitter has told most of its employees that they can expect to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose. Microsoft is running primarily on remote work, and Google expects a distributed model until 2021.
According to one survey of C-suite executives from $1B+ companies, conducted by the business and tech firm West Monroe, 44% of respondents said that the biggest change from the pandemic would center on their approach to remote work. Similarly, a study by the Kung Group, which surveyed over 500 founders of venture-backed companies, discovered that 70% of respondents planned to let some or all employees continue with remote work after their offices reopened.
Academic research by Harvard Business School professors Zoe Cullen, Michael Luca, and Christopher Stanton estimated that 16 percent or more of American workers will ultimately switch from professional to home offices at least part of the time, as a direct result of COVID-19. The researchers called this “a dramatic and persistent shift in workplace norms around remote work,”.
Ranking the Best Cities for Remote Work
When it’s time to make the decision to move, there are numerous factors that need to be considered. These might broadly be divided into work-, living- and finance-related factors. How friendly is a city to remote workers? What about quality of life? And the cost of living or taxes?
Rankings of the best cities for remote work also take into account the commute-time savings, local WiFi speed, availability of coworking spaces and even coffee shops. Others look at rental cost data and walkability.
At One America Works, we know that the important choice of where to move requires more data than these metrics. One America Works is currently in the beta testing phase of a new tool designed to help folks determine which cities best meet their needs, whether it is employment, housing, or other factors. The tool dives into granular details and metrics to compile a definitive ranking of the best cities for tech workers. We use multiple data sources and research findings to take into account everything from traffic to public transit, from infrastructure to utility bill prices, along with happiness and healthiness indices that let you delve into the real quality of life.
Using this tool, we came up with a list of the top ten “Zoom Towns” or the best cities in the US for remote work based on average resident happiness, monthly rent, and bang-for-your-buck. Here’s the collection:
2. San Diego
10. Salt Lake City
What to Consider for Your Possible Move
One thing is for sure: many people have found their home bases in flux thanks to the COVID pandemic. The Pew Research Center found that more than one-fifth of U.S. adults have either changed their own residence or know someone who has in response to the crisis—a trend particularly marked among younger people. Larger cities with more acute outbreaks saw the biggest changes: in New York and San Francisco, 80% more people left than moved in; in Washington, D.C., Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut, that ratio exceeded 50%.
Many are “testing the waters,” Dowell Myers, a professor of demography at the University of Southern California, said in an interview with CBS News. Myers added that temporarily remote workers are trying to determine if they could make a work-from-home arrangement work permanently.
If you’re one of the many Americans in this position, what factors should you consider when you’re searching for a place to put down WFH roots?
First, consider the logistics of your current or prospective company. Maybe you need to remain in the same time zone or state. Your health insurance and taxes may change as well, so delve into the specifics for your job and location.
You’ll also want to look into cities with incentive programs for remote workers. The city of Tulsa, for example, runs a philanthropy-funded incentive scheme that awards grants of $10,000 to digital nomads who stay in the city for a year or more (plus co-working space and access to a nomad community.) The Economic Development Authority in Savannah, Georgia awards $2,000 grants to cover moving expenses for remote tech employees in 2020. And the “Choose Topeka” program, sponsored by the Kansas city’s Economic Development Organization, incentivizes companies with relocation benefits that can chalk up to $10,000 or more.
One Bloomberg article suggested that this could indicate a coming paradigm shift—instead of urban economies reliant on company HQs, cities might incentivize remote-working employees from all kinds of companies to move on their own.