Are the jobs really in the cities?

Credit: Unsplash

There is an old adage that there are more billionaires in San Francisco from real estate than there are from tech.

Whether this is true or not, it nonetheless raises an interesting question:

Is it really worth relocating to popular and often expensive cities to pursue a career or are employees just making their landlords rich with limited benefit to themselves?

These popular cities have swelled over the last century due to the lure of:

  • Higher salaries
  • Higher growth opportunities
  • The most innovative companies
  • More valuable business network

But these benefits often come at a cost. There are significant sacrifices to be made when living in such cities. These sacrifices come in the form of higher living costs, longer commutes, smaller living spaces, higher crime rates, pollution etc.

It’s not getting any easier either. Increasing pressure on housing, transportation and other resources is causing the cost of living to rise faster than salaries in many cities, stretching already limited budgets further and further. However, the logic that making the initial trade-off in quality of life to be compensated for down the line with better career prospects continues to draw people in. But this is changing.

The rapid rise in remote working is shedding a prominent light on this ROI equation. As companies become more comfortable managing staff remotely while simultaneously feeling the same pinch on their expenses as their employees, it is becoming more and more common for new roles to be filled by employees outside of their office’s commutable radii. In recent times, companies are also allowing and sometimes encouraging, employees to relocate (or is it delocate?) to more affordable locations.

However, the growth of remote working has had some roadblocks limiting its growth. One of these is the concern of being “forgotten” or “left out” when it comes to career progression, based off the common reality that remote workers that were part of a larger co-located team were often somewhat “out of sight, out of mind”. However, as companies continue to hire more remote employees, the playing field is being leveled between co-located and remote workers.

Remote workers feel less like second-class employees in their companies, partly because they make up a larger percentage of the total workforce but also because there is a growing understanding that even in hybrid teams, companies need to operate as remote-first organisations where most if not all communication and work is done digitally. This means remote workers are becoming more visible and as a result are being recognised more consistently for their work.

Another concern is that to join a team of brilliant minds to tackle tough and fulfilling challenges, you must be located in a major city. In recent years, these sorts of opportunities have commonly been found in technology companies. Interestingly, as remote working has roots in open-source software development projects, the majority of remote jobs are also currently found in the tech sector. This means that there may come a time where you are more likely to find a job with an innovative tech start-up remotely rather than at a desk in London or Silicon Valley.

All of these factors come together and significantly erode the position of a paradigm that’s been driving urbanisation since we walked out of the fields and into the factories. The words “work” and “place” are being decoupled from each other, allowing employees to balance quality of life with professional fulfilment all while employers are able to reduce their cost base, widen their available talent pool and increase productivity.