An 'urban flight' from the San Francisco Bay Area could be accelerated as more people work remotely in the future and flock to less expensive US cities

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco in 2019.
  • Thousands of white-collar employees have adapted to working from their homes during the pandemic, and remote work will likely be more widely accepted in a new era of office culture.
  • That reality could accelerate an exodus of urbanites from expensive major cities to more affordable US locales.
  • People were already leaving the San Francisco Bay Area in droves – the region’s housing supply is low, and housing and living costs are subsequently high.
  • But many more may begin to opt for living outside of the region, including tech workers that have already been used to remote work in an industry where results are prioritised over mere office attendance.
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When people start returning to work, it will look very different from what we were used to in the “Before Times” prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Design firms say employers may have to implement one-way hallways to minimise cross-traffic. Workstations may be staggered. You might be a part of an office cohort with a few handfuls of your coworkers. You may only go into the office on days when you have group work, with individual tasks completed at home. There may be single-occupancy bathrooms, and the workday may be shorter to allow cleaning rooms ample time to conduct the kind of rigorous wipe-down needed.

Office design covid-19 silicon valleyGenslerA concept graphic from design firm Gensler shows how workstations could be staggered.

But even as companies ponder eventual office reopenings, thousands have adapted to remotely working out of their homes, causing many to rethink the purpose of the workplace.

“We don’t really keep offices to deal with the work that we do,” Melissa Hanley, the CEO of design studio Blitz, told Business Insider. “So why do we go to the office?”

Where we do work is definitely shifting, said Hanley, whose firm has developed designs for the likes of Skype, Google, and Microsoft. Before the pandemic upended daily life, many did not have efficient work areas carved out of their homes, including those living in pint-sized spaces in the Bay Area.

“I do think it’s going to have a major impact in our homes,” she said. “I think about apartments in San Francisco – they don’t have space for home offices or at least a legitimate home office.”

That’s why Hanley said we could see an “urban flight” from dense, major cities. Many are rethinking their decision to live in such pricey, bustling places as the pandemic-driven shutdown spells the closure of desirable urban amenities like bars and museums, as Business Insider’s Aria Bendix reports.

“Maybe that’s not so bad, and I get way more for my money somewhere else,” Hanley said. “I can actually have that home office.”

That includes the Bay Area, where a trickle of fleeing residents had already formed in recent years as the exorbitant cost of living, soaring housing prices, and a low supply of homes have made it difficult for many to retain a lifestyle in the urban environment.

East cut san franciscoKatie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco in 2019.

Real-estate site Redfin found that San Francisco lost more residents than any other city in the US in the last quarter of 2017. A 2018 survey from the Bay Area Council advocacy group found that 46% of residents said they planned to leave the region. As for their reasons why, 45% of residents cited high living costs, and 27% cited rising housing prices. And a 2019 Brunswick Group survey of 300 tech workers in the Valley found that 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds planned to leave the region in the next year.

There’s even a Silicon Valley startup that offers tech workers a $US10,000 stipend to leave the Bay Area and work remotely in coworking spaces outside the region.

Tech companies are tasked with incentivising the best of the tech talent stock with high salaries, equity, and out-of-the-box job perks, like catered meals, bountiful snack assortments, and on-site exercise options. But it’s getting more difficult to convince workers that living in such a high-cost city is worth it.

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