by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 14
May 2020
Idea
07:00

After lockdown, prepare for the Big Move

by Peter Franklin
A worker is cleaning a street in The City. Credit: Zawrzel, Getty

Yesterday, the Government launched a “comprehensive plan to reopen, restart and renew the housing market.”

That’s just as well because a lot of us could be moving before long. The Covid-crisis is rewriting our economic geography — and the effects are likely to outlast the pandemic itself.

This week, Twitter told its employees that they could still work from home even after the lockdown:

The past few months have proven we can make that work. So if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen.
- Twitter

The “forever” bit sounds like some eternal punishment, but let’s focus on the immediate consequences.

Where people work goes a long way to determining where they live. If enough employers follow Twitter’s example, then that means millions of workers no longer tied to a daily commute. Suddenly, urban centres (plus their suburbs and satellite towns) aren’t the only option. You can escape to the country, but keep your big city job.

While working from home will no longer be necessary after lockdown is lifted, it may become more attractive. For instance, with the kids back at school there’ll be fewer distractions. There’s also the possibility that this is only the first wave of the disease — so why expose yourself to a second or third if you don’t have to? As for money, why not save on housing and commuting costs if you can?

Note that employees and employers don’t have to quit the city completely. The former can come in more occasionally (and therefore tolerate a longer commute); the latter can keep their metropolitan HQs, but reduce their space requirements.

In the long-term, this might even be good for economic efficiency and quality of life. If more people are able to work from home — with a subset moving to more bucolic surroundings — then that means more room (and less expense) for those who have to work in the city and/or want to live there (especially the young).

A potential downside, depending on your point of view, is de-gentrification. With less demand for urban living we can expect the tide of developers’ money to ebb away from the most euphemistically ‘up-and-coming’ neighbourhoods. Of course, that could be an opportunity for some proper regeneration instead. After all, the construction sector will need something to do — I doubt they’ll be busy building office blocks.

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