The New World of Work: Preparing for the Realities of “Location Anywhere”

Business owner Aron Kohn was struggling with a shortage of workers and spiraling wage rates in Lakewood and beyond. On the other hand, a friend had recently moved with his family to Cleveland, where he was able to work at his job remotely while being closer to extended family and paying less for his newly acquired out-of-town lifestyle. But what blew Aron’s mind was the fact that his accountant, the owner of a small firm, had hired a bunch of people in the Philippines to do back-end work .

What major shifts are unfolding in the labor markets, and how should Aron, and the rest of us, prepare for them?

The Zoom Revolution

Imagine if location didn’t matter, if you could live where you wanted. Would you change anything about your lifestyle? Well…it’s not an dream anymore. The concept of telecommuting isn’t new, but in the past few years, the combination of Covid and Zoom catapulted working from home into the mainstream.

Today, employers have come to realize that their workers don’t have to be physically in the office in order to do their jobs effectively, and clients don’t think it strange to meet over Zoom rather than in person. All of this has opened numerous possibilities for both employers and employees as the range of remote work options means that one’s job is no longer tied down to a geographic location.

Work From Home

Employees have come to love the flexibility of working from home. After all, what’s not to love about no commute, the ability to run out for a doctor’s visit or a child’s school play, and not having to scramble to find a babysitter when a kid is sick? This is why even once Covid lockdowns were over, many workers were not so eager to return to the office. Today, it is increasingly common for employees to demand flex-working as part of their package. Entire industries are being remade, equaling millions of quits and hires, as employers and employees rethink their work situations.

Work From Roam

Zoom also opened up a work setup that I call “work from roam.” The opportunity to work from any locale means that you can effectively have your cake and eat it too. You can live half the year in Eretz Yisrael, spend your summers in the Catskills, or take a month’s trip to Australia for your cousin’s simchah without missing work. Many employees want this option, and many companies are accommodating so they can keep and attract employees.

The Limitations of This Model

Of course, there are drawbacks to working from home/roam. At home, many more distractions get in the way of work, such as the kids or the fridge. And many find the lack of social stimulation dispiriting. There’s something inherently motivating about working in an office surrounded by colleagues, something that work from home can’t supply.

From the employer’s perspective, it’s difficult to train new employees remotely. Even more significantly, it’s hard to build company morale and foster team spirit when the employees don’t physically work together. For this reason alone, many employers are not so eager to allow their employees to work out of  the office.

Is there another alternative?

Work From Zones

Now that it’s no longer necessary for employees to live in the geographic locale of their business, we’re seeing a strong trend of companies creating office zones in locales across the country and the world. Why should an employer hire a high-wage local worker in Manhattan or San Francisco when they can get the same quality of work for a much lower salary from a worker in Cincinnati or Detroit or, for that matter, Beit Shemesh or Beitar?

While this isn’t a new phenomenon—large companies have had satellite branches across the country for years—the difference is that now, they will no longer need to maintain central headquarters in expensive areas like Manhattan. And for a small company that previously couldn’t have afforded to open several offices in multiple locations, the option may not just be viable now, but even advisable. A Lakewood-based company can hire a team, with a local manager in St. Louis working out of a local low-cost office-sharing space and find it much more profitable than hiring similarly qualified local staff.

The Ramifications

As trends shift in this direction, new skills will be required of both employers and employees. Managers will need to know how to manage employees in multiple locations and without face-to-face interactions. All members of the team will be required to become comfortable with using technological tools.

Even more fundamentally, workers living in high-wage locales will need to reexamine their own skill sets and what knowledge and experience they can offer to make themselves indispensable in a job market where they’re competing with workers who live in lower-cost-of-living locales and can afford to take lower salaries. This shakeout is part of the underlying turmoil in the labor market now and is still in its early stages.

Seismic Shift

The reverberations from this change extend well beyond employment. Historically, people congregated in cities because that’s where the jobs were. The large-scale shift to remote working will have far-reaching implications that we can only begin to imagine.

Some intriguing examples:

Location values and transit: We can expect to see an emptying of some downtown skyscrapers, perhaps they will be converted to residential apartments or fulfillment centers. This will impact small businesses that service the working population, such as restaurants. Additionally, the commute as we knew it is dying. With the concepts of transit traffic and rush hour increasingly becoming things of the past, we can expect traffic patterns to change.

Eventually, we will likely see a balancing out of real estate and salaries across the country, as currently low-cost-of-living cities become more desirable destinations and the local real estate markets react accordingly.

Population shifts: With geography no longer an impediment to earning a good living, people will begin to move to their desired locales. Rural areas will become more popular with those who’ve always dreamed of peaceful, quiet lifestyles. These shifts will likely have political consequences as well, as people can more easily move to states whose populations are more in line with their beliefs. Already, more people in recent years have been making Aliyah, as remote working has made this dream increasingly financially viable. We can expect to see a marked jump in this trend in the coming years, as more fields of employment jump on the remote-working bandwagon.

Global competitiveness: It’s one thing for someone in San Francisco to be competing with a resident of Cincinnati, but what happens when they’re competing with a worker in India? Exporting jobs to cheap overseas markets has been a political issue for years in the blue-collar sector, but it will become much more of an issue once it’s possible to export white-collar jobs en masse.

Prepare Yourself

None of the above developments are new; all these work options have been around for years. But thanks to Covid, a trend that might have taken several decades to unfold was accelerated to several months. The rapidity of the transformation from in-person to home, roam, and zone working makes it something that all of us need to be aware of and prepare ourselves for. The massive upheaval triggered by the past few years is only just beginning. The future holds exciting possibilities.

Want to dig deeper?

Try these related articles

Getting Out Of The Commuting Grind

Building a Company Culture Remotely: Is it Possible?

Office Offshoring: Slicing Payroll by Hiring Overseas Employment

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