- Remote work led an roughly five million Americans moved to a new location in the past two years.
- What's more, an Upwork survey estimates nearly 19 million more are likely to move in the future.
- The numbers suggest that rather than a return to offices, work-from-home is still gaining steam.
Corporate statements may suggest that US office workers are headed back to the world of watercooler chats and sad desk lunches.
But a new study from the flexible jobs platform Upwork indicates the opposite is likely happening.
Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 5 million people in the US, or 2.4% of all Americans, are estimated to have moved to a new location as a result of remote work's location flexibility.
"For the first time, remote work allowed many people across the country to see a life in which the location of their job and where they live did not have to be one and the same," Upwork chief economist Adam Ozimek wrote in a statement.
Before the pandemic, more than 80% of workers lived within an hour-and-a-half commute of their workplace. Now, more than one in four respondents to the Upwork survey said they are moving more than four hours away from work.
Citing the work of economists Arjun Ramani and Nicholas Bloom, who refer to suburban home price gains from urban migration as the "donut effect," Ozimek says, "the donut can be huge."
So far that has meant strong gains in home values that are within a few hours' drive to places like New York and San Francisco, but the donut is getting bigger as workers and companies recognize that remote jobs aren't going away.
"It's not just people within two hours of New York City," Ozimek told Insider. "What we're going to be seeing is people going farther away."
Nearly one in 10 survey respondents said they are planning on a future move because of remote work, representing nearly 19 million Americans — vastly outnumbering those who reported making a move already.
Upwork's numbers are consistent with other polling from Gallup, cited by The New York Times, which found that the percentage of white-collar employees working exclusively from home shot up to 65% in May 2020 from just 6% before the pandemic.
"The only thing holding back flexible work arrangements was a failure of imagination," said Joan Williams, director of the University of California, Hastings' Center for WorkLife Law, according to the Times. "That failure was remedied in three weeks' time in March 2020."
Of course, the majority of US workers are still doing their jobs in person, but the advantages for those who are able to work remotely are significant, including a reduced cost of living and less stress over fitting in with office culture.
Ozimek said the rise of remote work is reversing the past several decades' trend of ever more concentration of economic opportunity in superstar cities.
"This is a spreading of opportunity across the country," he said. "It's allowing people more choice. They can choose where to live and where to work as sort of a separate decision instead of being stuck living near places where they wanted to work."
Taken together, the data and the anecdotal evidence suggest that the first 5 million people were just the tip of the remote-work iceberg.