Today, more than six months into working remotely, with no indication that I’ll be back in an office until some time next year, I found myself signing a contract to purchase a home an hour and a half outside of Manhattan. What happened in these last six months that would change my perspective on city living so dramatically and abruptly?
It started with a search for a month-long house rental. It was July and my husband and I had escaped the city, where we had been cooped up in an apartment that pre-pandemic had seemed grand but, when we were spending almost every minute of the day in it, had become downright claustrophobic. We found respite in the scenic and spacious surroundings of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York and were already plotting for the next time we’d get out. As I scrolled through hundreds of listings, planning the future escape, I started to question how someone so enamored with the thought of being in a house out of the city could truly be satisfied living in a small apartment in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world. Was this pandemic confinement talking or was I tapping into a wish I had buried down deep?
Having been born and raised in New York City, has been a badge of honor for me. Pursuing a career in my chosen industry did not require leaving family or friends, opportunity was at my doorstep. Even when I changed fields, I knew that it would not cause a full uprooting of the adult life I had started to build for myself. Six months ago, if you had asked even my closest friends if I, the die-hard city gal, would ever move, they would have bet any sum that I would not. I would have made that bet myself. None of us could have predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic would take what we thought was fixed to a state of fluidity.
For more than 13 years, living where I do in Manhattan afforded me the great privilege of being able to walk to and from school or work. I have long understood that not having a commute meant more time for my family, friends and non-work interests. It allowed me to have a sense of balance even if I was working long hours. I was part of a small group of 4% of New York City residents who averaged less than 30 minutes to get to work. That rare convenience blinded me from the sacrifices I was making in turn. My apartment rent is a steal, but still means I’m throwing away tens of thousands of dollars every year when I could be building equity by owning. Our one-bedroom abode is lovely, but means we can never comfortably host the friends and family we would love to see more often. We own a car that we barely drive because we choose to park it at my father-in-law’s house 40 minutes away so that we don’t have to deal with the lack of street parking, or exorbitant cost of a garage. I could go on, but the gist is that the more I went down this rabbit hole the more I started to question if the city was where I wanted to be.
I have always had colleagues who were willing to sacrifice time to have the home life they wanted, even if it meant three to four hours worth of a commute every week day. My question is, why should they have to do this ever again? We’ve proven that we can fulfill our obligations remotely, so why shouldn’t we be rewarded with the type of home life we most desire?
According to the New York Times, the month of July saw a 44% year-over-year increase in home sales in the suburbs surrounding the city, and a 56% decrease in properties sold in Manhattan. There will be employers who simply don’t care and expect that all will go back to “normal” as soon as they’re able, but many employees will have changed perspectives and will question whether or not they want to succumb to the old ways.
How can we ignore the cost savings, earned efficiencies and, if you’re doing it right, a more fulfilled workforce by considering, at least, a more flexible work from home policy? As the weeks and then months have passed my company, like so many others, has made the adjustments to sustain remote work in the long term. The client workshops we thought had to be in person were adaptable to better suit a video conference environment and I’m happy to say that they have garnered the same levels of praise we used to get in person. Conducting these sessions virtually also presents cost savings for our out-of-state clients, who pre-pandemic had to travel or pay for us to get to them. Remote work has actually improved communication across our three office locations, and we have a stronger sense of cohesive company culture rather than three distinct ones held together by a shared name. I believe that the companies that offer greater flexibility in their remote work policies will experience lower turnover and also attract better talent. So, I’ll leave you with this: Do you want the best talent, or do you want the best talent near you?