By N. David Milder
In recent months I have again confirmed my conclusion that remote work is here to stay, and that it will undoubtedly impact our large and suburban downtowns. In the past, I felt this was the case because:
- So many more employees now have tried and liked remote work. They also have become much better at it
- Major corporations are adapting their operations to it and investing substantial sums in equipment and programming to help assure its optimal performance. This is even happening in major companies whose CEOs were initially opposed to remote work
- There is much wider acceptance of remote work. Importantly, those who engage in it are far less likely to be seen as slackers or second-class employees.
Recently, I have also come to see the critical importance of remote working being a response to needs other than those related to the pandemic. This is critically important because new or heightened trends will only persist past the crisis that impacts them if non-crisis related needs are there to sustain substantial future interest in them. That critical non-crisis related need for remote work, I would argue, is related to the “unbonding” of creatives working for corporations. Just as there are forces that bond together atoms, ions, or molecules to form chemical compounds, so there are forces that make creative employees bond or unbond to the companies that employ them. The pandemic has reinforced those that press toward unbonding. This unbonding may not mean the termination of the relationship between creative employees and their employers. However, it certainly does mean a change in it, and a loosening of the bonds between them so that the workers have much more control over their work and personal lives. Remote work allows the workers to have greater control while still maintaining a meaningful relationship with their employers. In turn, remote work allows employers to retain and attract desperately needed highly talented employees.
It increasingly looks like remote work will have serious negative impacts on our large office dependent downtowns, and potential positive impacts for many suburban and some rural regional commercial centers, i.e., those at the center of small metro areas. The time has come in the downtown revitalization field to look more seriously about how the negative impacts of remote work in our major downtowns can be offset, and how its positive impacts in the suburban and rural areas can best be leveraged.