Remote working has become the mainstay of the corporate world in a pandemic environment. Once seen as part of the perks awarded to senior-level employees, flexible work policies are being relied upon by organisations to retain talent as well as keep the business operational during lockdowns.

However, the freedom to be able to work anywhere is also encouraging many city dwellers to move away from their expensive urban environments to smaller and more affordable towns and cities. A recent survey conducted by Gensler revealed that “one in three workers with the ability to work remotely is thinking of relocating away from the city in which they currently live” (Gensler City Pulse 2021 Survey).

The future of the office, and the future of cities are no longer separate topics, observes Gensler. How can urban areas and companies increase their appeal and retain people, especially the younger generations of the workforce?

Answer: By creating a “smaller city experience” that combines highly attractive place amenities with affordable housing.

According to the City Pulse Survey research, the most attractive destination for residents who want to move out of their cities is a smaller city. Key areas of concern for more than half of the urban residents are crowding and affordability, while excessive noise is also a factor for about 40% of the respondents to seek out less-populated locations. The data indicates that a city’s recovery will hinge on its ability to address the cost-of-living concerns of its residents.

To retain their residents, cities will need to focus on specific aspects of urban living that continue to be attractive to this segment, such as great neighbourhoods, employment opportunities and multimodal transportation options.

CBDs, for instance, should be active all 24 hours, providing place amenities and experiences that keep residents engaged at the end of the workday. Zoning laws will need to be revisited to increase affordable housing. With the pandemic-driven work-at-home culture making companies around the world reconsider the amount of space they need at their workplaces, there is opportunity to convert unused office spaces into residential accommodation.

Workplace surveys conducted by Gensler during the pandemic aimed to understand how office workers were handling the work-from-home situation and where they would prefer to work in a post-pandemic future. One important finding was the struggle being faced by millennials and GenZ to avoid distractions and maintain work/life balance while working from home. One of the surveys also revealed that remote working had impacted coaching and mentoring of junior employees who were missing formal training and professional development at the office. Additionally, they were also missing the physical interactions with their colleagues.

In a post-pandemic workplace, younger employees prefer a wider range of options for where to work, ranging from their home for regular tasks to third places outside the office for in-person feedback, informal collaboration and socialising with colleagues, the survey stated. Gensler concludes that companies who locate their office space in walkable, vibrant neighbourhoods can use third places as an extension of the office to attract and retain talent.


Image: Tuttle Village Royale, Royal Palm Beach, Florida