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Saving time on commutes, employee happiness, and small town lures — which trends are playing out?

In another World of Work segment.

In data from the Department of Labor announced last week, Americans saved 26 minutes on average traveling from 2019 to 2020.  That’s from the American Time Use Survey, and that adds up to 6.5 days saved over the course of a year.   Where did that time go?   Household activities, sports, and leisure.   

Twitter announced they will be embracing “asynchronous” work, while DoorDash will transition to a hybrid model in January.  80% of its workforce is expected in the office a few days a week.  Etsy also announced an investment in hybrid work, although without a timeline.       Even game development is done differently – Electronic Arts is profiled in a Verge article, stating clearly “I don’t think we will ever go back to how we were before the pandemic,”

That said, some companies are worried about pushback on returning to the office. LaSalle Network’s second Office Re-Entry Index, taken in May, says 74% believe they will be back in the office by fall, and the emphasis is less on a phased approach than the previous index.   That leads to an increase in expectation of pushback – up 5 percentage points to 39% expecting that conflict compared to March’s sample set.

Where will that happen?   Well, despite speculation of a city exodus, a Brookings analysis of US Postal Service address changes showed that cities like New York, San Francisco and LA are coming back strong.     The moves happened within metro areas, not across them.    Of course… office vacancies are also very high, hitting all time highs of over 20% in New York and San Francisco.  

The good news – employees may be feeling better.   Per a survey by Protocol Workplace, 88% of tech industry workers feel appreciated by theiter employers, and 87% believe they have good work life balance.    89% say that at least somewhat, companies have figured out how to make remote and hybrid meetings work well.    Before we celebrate too much… this is a 64% male survey, and 79% with Bachelor’s degrees, and in the data, women are less likely to see opportunities for career advancement.  

How about incentives to lure workers to small towns?  Turns out it’s not going well – per long form reporting in the Atlantic, those programs are not working particularly well.     Incentives range from $3,000 to $20,000.. and the totals are not impressive.  

And, like yesterday, context for the return to work.     ABC news is reporting on local health departments taking the lead on returning mask mandates for all residents, and the Washington Post is reporting on bars in San Francisco requiring proof of vaccination for entry to protect workers.   This as the CDC is considering changes to their guidance.  

Why do we care?

I’m layering back in COVID coverage to give some context – it doesn’t make sense to me to talk about the changes in the dynamics of work without acknowledging that there will be factors related to the pandemic.

Thus we’re considering two timeframes – during the pandemic and post-pandemic, as it’s quite clear we aren’t actually post-pandemic now.  

To the data – employees got back time they lost in commuting, and put that to quality of life, and many men are feeling much better about work.    Previous data tells us that the impact on women has been harder, and we add to that now.    There doesn’t appear to be a mass exodus from cities, and programs to lure to smaller ones don’t appear to be working.   Large physical concentrations of humans are still the pools to pull employees from, although they can work for companies anywhere.