Continued Remote Work: Implications for Cities

The New York Times is writing about the implications for Manhattan of continued remote work (“Remote Work is Here to Stay. Manhattan May Never be the Same”).

  • Small businesses dependent upon office workers – restaurants, coffee shops, hot dog stands – are being hard hit.
  • New levels of office vacancies are causing building owners to scramble over how to handle lost revenue and what to do with empty office space.
  • Cities are facing lost tax revenue due to lost taxation of real estate.

On an individual level, I am a fan of remote work – on either a full-time or part-time basis for people whose workplace circumstances allow it. It has its’ benefits – reduced commuting, workplace flexibility in which people create a personalized work environment that suits their temperament.

Granted, remote work suits some people more than others (it can be more suitable for introverts than extroverts, for example).

Yet, people who are unaccustomed to remote work need to learn to offset its’ disadvantages:

  • Social isolation is known to be a potential challenge for remote workers. I learned early on, for example, to actively participate in local business networking events (pre-COVID), attend conferences (I love trade show floors for a burst of interaction), and to cultivate one-to-one connections for networking within my industry and with potential clients.
  • Remote workers must also learn to avoid distractions at home. Stay away from the refrigerator, avoid the temptation to take extra breaks, don’t get distracted by noise in other rooms.
  • In some cases, there are challenges inherent to living in community and having an employer in another community – as in the cases where employees are taxed for working in a community where they don’t live.

Further, it is clear that cities are facing unexpected changes – as outlined by the New York Times – due to increased – and continuing – remote work; some changes are challenges.

“Times are changing.”

It is time, therefore, to find new ways for communities to thrive in response to impact increased levels of remote working.

One partial response – to support some of the displaced restaurant workers in office centers – is to create more cafes in neighborhoods where many employees live. There’s already a segment of remote workers who spend part of their working hours at cafes frequented by other remote workers – an opportunity for social interaction and networking among remote workers (overcoming social isolation) – and a changed work opportunity for displaced restaurant workers.

As discussed by the NY Times, some office buildings that will be used less for office space going forward will likely be re-purposed one way or another.

For cities losing tax revenue from real estate, one possibility may be for companies to directly invest their tax savings in local communities (they’d still benefit from reduced office expenses).

Kim Burkhardt, MBA is a market research and competitive intelligence consultant at Burkhardt & Co.

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