A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jan 5, 2022

How the Remote Work Transformation Might Just Be Beginning

Omicron has further shaken the assumptions that underpinned the global economy and, in particular, the belief in the office as a central force in the nature of work. 

As the geographical and psychological boundaries of where work needs to be done have been breached, there is a still growing awareness of possibilities. These may influence how and where work is done, what compensation levels are set, how job and career expectations are managed - and, perhaps, most importantly, that work is not a calling or central to personal fulfillment, but a transactional agreement whose nature is constantly up for negotiation. JL

Sean Illing reports in Re/Code:

“The five leading metros account for 80% of venture capital investment and 85% of growth over the past decade.” The ten largest cities in computer science, semiconductors, and biology account for 69%, 77%, and 59% of US inventors.” A decentered environment means that we’re not telling people that they have to labor in this job and that you have to be friends with everyone in your company. It demarcates life outside of work from life inside it. And that allows you more of a clear boundary and clear expectations. The greatest trick offices ever pulled was convincing office workers they’re not workers. That they’re doing what they love. And thus that exploitation is not something to be worried about.

It’s hard to track all the ways this pandemic has upended “normal” life, but surely one of the most significant changes has been how and where, and even when, we work.

You might call the last year or so a remote work revolution, but that’s not quite right. For one thing, remote work wasn’t an option for most of the country. But even for the fortunate people who were able to work from home, what they were doing wasn’t really working. It’s more like a panicked compromise forged under the chaos of a national emergency.

But as we inch our way toward the other side of this pandemic — or at least the closest we’ll get to the other side of it — we have an opportunity to rethink our broken relationship to work. The pandemic was an inflection point, and what happens or doesn’t happen next is up to us.

This is the case that Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen make in their new book, called Out of Office, and it’s the best thing I’ve read so far on this topic. In truth, the book isn’t really about remote work — it’s about work. And not just what it has meant and could mean, but also why the status quo isn’t sustainable, for anyone.

I reached out to Petersen and Warzel for the latest episode of Vox Conversations. We talk about the world they hope we build, a world in which our jobs don’t trump everything else in our lives, where we think differently about our own labor and the ways we advocate for others, and where, in their words, “We don’t work from home because work is what matters most. We work from home to free ourselves to focus on what actually does.”

Below is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for length and clarity. As always, there’s much more in the full podcast, so subscribe to Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Sean Illing

It’s fair to say we’ve done a very bad job in this country of imposing boundaries around work and life. When you two look around the world, do you see better models of work-life balance?

Charlie Warzel

I’ll let Annie talk a little bit about the boundaries thing, because she came up with a really great framework for this. The one thing I’ll say is that yes, a lot of the erosion of any work-life balance is, it’s so thoroughly embedded in American culture that it’s not just that we have a hard time maintaining it or we don’t do a particularly good job of educating people about it; it’s that we value and celebrate the opposite of it. We value and celebrate the complete destruction of it.


People set expectations about when to work and how much to work and when to be in touch. And if you violate those standards or those expectations, it’s not seen as something to have a conversation with your boss about and say, like, “Hey, you’re really not sticking to the plan here.” It’s celebrated. And it’s like, “Well, why can’t you be a little more like so-and-so? They work on Sundays.” Even though the expectation is you’re not in the office, you’re not working those days.

Anne Helen Petersen

I’d say that I’ve been thinking a lot about how the American work ethic is a fetishism of work, the process of work, and not of the worker. The worker is kind of collateral damage in that understanding. And within that framework, within that understanding, it can’t be contingent upon the individual to try to change that. An individual cannot protect themselves from this larger ideological force, which is that better work is always more work.

And so the thing that I’ve thought a lot about is that instead of using this language of boundaries, because boundaries are the responsibility of the individual, they are always violated. And when they are violated, it is your fault as an individual for not maintaining them. Instead, we could think of guardrails. Out here in the West where we live, you have these guardrails on the mountain passes, which are maintained by the government, by a larger entity. And they are there to protect everyone. We all pay into them through taxes to protect everyone.

And I’m not saying that federally mandated work hours, or understanding of what good work is, has to look like that. That does not necessarily have to be the solution. In the book there’s some interesting case studies in other countries, where they have attempted to mandate no email after certain work hours and that sort of thing. And they failed, because they haven’t been robust enough to grapple with the realities of global capitalism. If you say, in France, you cannot email after 5 pm, there will be corporations, global corporations, that are always figuring out exceptions to this. People will just violate it.

So at least for the time being, until labor legislation catches up to the current reality of work — which I think is a major and an important goal moving forward — companies, if they do say that they want to value work-life balance, or say that they want their workers to not burn out, to be sustainable, they have to maintain standards of what good work looks like; these guardrails.

And so that looks like, “In our company, we do not correspond after 8 pm.” If you are a person who really does good work at night and that’s how you have arranged your flexible work schedule, great. But you do not send that email. You delay send, which is not a hard thing. You delay send that message, that email, whatever it is, until the morning, until standard working hours. And most importantly, if you violate that standard, that guardrail, it becomes something that is actually a problem, not a low-key way to garner praise.

Sean Illing

We have a vision of work in this country as the primary source of identity and status and, as you put in the book, “the primary organizing factor in our lives.” You argue that we have to overturn that. What does work look like, once it’s been decentered in the way you two think it should be?

Charlie Warzel

So there’s this really interesting company called Gumroad. And it’s a platform for creators, essentially. And they went through this whole reorganization and had to change the way that their company works. And now they don’t have any employees except for the founder. Everyone’s a contractor. And what’s fascinating is the ethos of the company is “You don’t owe us anything but the work. You come in and you do this thing. We are not going to be friends. We’re not going to talk.” It’s extremely transactional, in a way that’s almost kind of cold and in that calculated tech way.

I’m not saying this is a sustainable model for pretty much anyone or the way the company should be run, but what’s so refreshing about it is this idea of being transactional with your company. You do a job for us, we give you money or some kind of benefits. And we get the labor that we paid for in return. There’s not going to be any of this extraneous guilt or commitment or whatever.

And I think that it’s too extreme, but there’s something about the transactional nature of that that is really refreshing and very helpful. And I think far less toxic than the “we are a family” ethos. Because families, as we all know, have their own problems and have their own toxic relationships that develop. And again, things like guilt. And I think that the way that we work has sort of adapted and had a lot of that kind of stuff glommed onto it.

I think that a decentered working relationship is not completely cold, and there can be some personal relationship qualities to it. But at the end of the day, it’s a transaction. You are doing a job for some people, and the transaction comes to an end at some point, and you’ve fulfilled what you need to do for that amount of time.

So a decentered environment means that we’re not telling people that they have to labor in this job and also get all of their social interactions out of their job. That you don’t have to be friends with everyone in your company. And it really demarcates your life outside of work from your life inside it. And that allows you then, once you have more of a clear boundary and clear expectations, you can devote more time to what’s outside of it. And you can have a clearer sense of who you are and what you value when you’re not this person.

Anne Helen Petersen

I’ll just say that the greatest trick that offices ever pulled was convincing office workers that they’re not workers. That they aren’t labor. And instead that they’re doing what they love or following a vocation, a calling. And thus that exploitation is not something to be worried about, or to fight back against, or to understand as unacceptable.

I think there are so many conditions that office workers, and I will say nonprofit workers in particular, have come to find acceptable, because they do not think of themselves as labor. And one hope that I have, moving forward, is that office workers should think of ourselves as labor. We should think of ourselves in solidarity with so many other types of labor as well, because it’s good for other laborers who don’t have the privileges of remote work or of being able to labor at the same salaries, but it’s also good for preventing our own exploitation.

Sean Illing

This raises the question of what will rise up to fill the void in a world in which work has been decentered. And you have a whole chapter in the book on community, namely the absence of it. And I guess, for me, it’s very hard to imagine a world in which professional identity isn’t the main identity, if we don’t have sources of connection and meaning and solidarity in our communities. That’s a long way of saying that work feels like the only natural ground for identity in a hyper-individualistic society like ours.

Charlie Warzel

I don’t know. I think the thing that we always guard against in this book is being too pie-in-the-sky and understanding that a lot of these things are super entrenched in our culture. But it becomes a self-defeating mindset when you say, “Well, this is how we are.” I do think there’s a huge power in pulling people away for a second, from the way that they did things, and the realization that comes of that.

So using ourselves as an example, using myself as an example, I knew that I worked too much when I lived in New York and was working for BuzzFeed. I knew that work was the central motivating axis that most of my life completely revolved around. But when I left, when we left and moved to Montana, a month or two in, it became incredibly clear to me just how dominating that was. The fact that I had actually pushed a lot of my relationships out to make room for my work relationships, and then extending those after hours. The people who I worked with — I mean, it’s no coincidence Annie and I met at work.

But our entire lives revolved around that. We went out almost every other night with people, and were we talking about work? Sort of, yes, no. But those are technically billable hours. And I didn’t realize how one-dimensional my life had become. I basically stopped doing things like hobbies. I certainly didn’t interact with my community. Work took up everything.

And then once I was removed from that situation for a little bit, it seemed almost ridiculous. It was like, “How did I not realize this was happening?” And I’m not going to say that I’m some community organization paragon. I still need to work on a lot of this stuff, but the clarity that you get from extricating yourself from that situation, from just trying to decenter work a little bit, I think is super powerful.

Anne Helen Petersen

Most adults that I know that are about my age, so mid- to late 30s, early 40s, find it really, really hard to conceive of taking regular time for anything in their life that isn’t their job or parenting. Even carving out an hour a day, or an hour a week, for something like a hobby — or even more importantly, a commitment to something that is not related to your kid. So not soccer practice, but volunteering at any sort of organization that, again, is not related to parenting. It just feels inconceivable.

I think that we should look at that very seriously, and think about the fact that if the only things that we say are valuable in our lives, through our actions, through the time allocated, are our jobs and our immediate families, we are not investing in our communities. We don’t value the people around us. And you see that reflected in avoidant choices.

This is not an ideology without consequences, but my hope is this is also — we have gone through cycles. There is very good scholarship on this sort of ricocheting back between an individualist ethos and a collectivist ethos, even in the United States, which is so individualistic. There was a peak of collectivist activity [and] ideology first in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and then it declined a bit. And then it went back up leading into World War II and in the postwar period.

And it wasn’t just like, “Oh yeah, let’s rally together around the war.” It was, “We want to be part of things. We want to hang out with other people.” And some of that affinity and joining was of things like the Klan, which are obviously not good sorts of community involvement. But then a lot of it too was just civic organizations broadly. Volunteer organizations, things like the Elks Club, being part of churches. Whatever you think about religious organizations or being religious in your own life, it allowed people to connect with people who weren’t their own immediate families or the people that they worked with.

Charlie Warzel

It’s made me think a little about our community involvement now and how tethered it is to work. A lot of people’s only volunteering happens because, like, JPMorgan has a “let’s go do a Habitat for Humanity day,” or a lot of people only do service when they’re in school, in order to earn hours so that it can look good on a college transcript or something like that. It’s all attached to this kind of individualist achievement or being good at your job or checking this box.

And it creates this attitude of service and community involvement to benefit just you. And I think Annie’s right, this is not without consequence. We see it reflected in our politics. We see it reflected in our culture in a really big way, and will working from home change that? No, but will decentering work in our lives potentially change that? Maybe. It’s certainly worth exploring, I think.

Sean Illing

Maybe one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it reminded us how much life alone, really truly alone, sucks. And I was glad to see you write about worker solidarity in this book. One worry that I have is that a world of remote work, a world where workers are more separated and cut off, might create even more barriers to labor organization. And I’m curious if there are templates or models for organizing in a world where remote work is more the norm.

Charlie Warzel

All of this stuff is relatively new. Again, some of the organizing we’ve seen in some of the tech companies like Google are templates to some degree for that. There’s a danger to it, obviously — in-person organization work and recruiting into that allows you to have sort of conversations that aren’t totally documented, or they can’t be immediately scooped up by management. Those things are obviously super helpful, and if there’s no gathering place, etc., then that can be hard.

But at the same time, part of the reason why we are able to work from anywhere is due to a lot of technological advancements, and a lot of those technological advancements also give people a megaphone and the ability to easily create widely shareable content, to be loud and in people’s faces. So I think that you’ve seen a lot of labor movements recently leveraging those tools to put a lot of pressure on people, on management. And I think that is generally good. And a lot of these technological tools are great for gathering a bunch of people in a room or in an app somewhere. So there’s always going to be this push and pull between surveillance and the ability to organize.

Anne Helen Petersen

I think sometimes we get bogged down in these particulars of, like, “Oh, it’s going to be harder because we don’t have as strong of ties with individuals,” when the real barrier to organizing is anti-labor legislation. It is the actual policy that is in place.

And more importantly — something that you hear labor advocates talk about a lot — the current labor laws have not been updated in any meaningful way to address the fissuring of the economy, the way that most people work today, the way that work seeps into the corners of our lives, but also just the freelancification of work as well. So those, I think, are the much larger goals that we need to be talking about and advocating for, instead of being more concerned about, like, “Oh, if I’m not going to lunch in person every day with the person next to me, it’s going to be harder to unionize.” It’s going to be harder to unionize when it’s so easy to union bust. That’s the larger conversation, I think.

Demsas It’s not just another perk in a benefits package — remote work could fundamentally reshape the urban geography of the United States.

Where we live has been dictated by where we can find a good job. That truism has defined much of where Americans reside — clustered in and around lucrative job markets.

In particular, “superstar cities” have been a defining technological advancement. According to a 2018 article by economist Richard Florida, “the five leading metros account for more than 80 percent of total venture capital investment and 85 percent of its growth over the past decade.” Another economist, Enrico Moretti, recently noted that “the ten largest clusters [cities] in computer science, semiconductors, and biology account for 69 percent, 77 percent, and 59 percent of all US inventors.”

Remote work could change that.

While only 37 percent of jobs could be performed remotely full time (according to two University of Chicago economists), those jobs have outsize purchasing power (accounting for 46 percent of all US wages by the same estimate). When people with these jobs congregate, they provide the necessary demand for a vast array of service sector jobs, from nurses and lawyers to teachers and taxi drivers. This is hugely important — it means that remote work could expand the choices of where to live for millions of Americans, not just those who have the option to work from home full time.

Imagine, for example, that you’re a human resources manager at a tech firm in San Francisco, married to a baker and paying $2,800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. With remote work, you could instead move to be closer to your family in Nashville or Orlando, and save a bunch of money on rent alone. And when you move, you’ll take your family and your demand for services with you to those locations, opening up opportunities for other workers — including, say, your spouse, who could confidently move with you and open a bakery catering to other new transplants.


To be sure, there’s good reason to believe that very little of this will happen.

Productivity is an open question and perhaps the most important one. Remote work doesn’t have one clear effect on workers’ productivity, evidence from economists Emma Harrington and Natalia Emanuel shows. Productivity losses or gains under remote work are likely to be different industry by industry, firm by firm, and role by role.

But if, on the whole, firms that choose to work in-person outperform those that are remote, it could push the equilibrium back to where we were before the pandemic. That’s what Moretti predicted to me back in April 2021: “The moment you start losing that creativity and productivity, that’s when both the employer and employee have something to lose from this decentralized application.”

Moreover, agglomeration economies — “the tendency of employers and workers to cluster” in big cities — are very powerful. One of the big reasons this happens is because of matching between labor demand and supply. Particularly for highly specialized workers, you want to live in a place with a lot of firms you can work for, so that you can bid up the price of your labor. And for firms, similarly, they want to be in a place with tons of workers they could hire for specialized roles, so they can find the best one.

For remote work to delink where people live from where they work, it’s likely not enough for just one biotech firm to decide its employees can work from home full time. A bunch of firms in that industry would need to make that shift.

If that happens — one economist thinks about 20 percent of jobs will realistically go fully remote in the long run — there will be massive implications for where Americans live and work, presenting new challenges and solutions for the housing crisis, climate crisis, and our political institutions.

From “Remote Work Persisting and Trending Permanent” by Lydia Saad and Ben Wigert, showing the persistence of remote work during the pandemic.

Remote work and housing markets

America’s “superstar cities” are lucrative labor markets — but the price of entry has become the cost of living, namely, the price of shelter. Housing costs have skyrocketed in these places, because supply has been artificially constrained by the labyrinth of regulations and veto points in the housing development process.

Fixing this process is paramount, expert after expert has maintained. And while there has been some progress in recent years — notably on the West Coast — as of May 2021, the country has a shortage of about 3.8 million homes, with the problem concentrated in the metropolitan regions with the most valuable labor markets.

Remote work could relieve some of the upward pressure on housing in these cities, in part by diffusing demand throughout the metro-suburban region. One study, for example, showed that a shift to working from home would “directly reduce spending in major city centers by at least 5-10 percent relative to the pre-pandemic situation.” And economist Matt Delventhal found that an increase in remote work in the Los Angeles metro area would lead average real estate prices to fall: “As many workers move into distant suburbs, prices in the periphery increase. However, these price increases are more than offset by the decline of prices in the core. ... In the counterfactual where 33% of workers telecommute, average house prices fall by nearly 6%.”

Fully remote work, meanwhile, could make it possible for people to avoid the high housing costs of places like Seattle or Boston entirely, while still accessing the jobs they offer.

By reducing the demand for housing in these major cities, the upward pressure on housing costs could ease. It also means that demand could be spread more equitably across the United States. We saw this dynamic begin to play out during the pandemic as rents rose in more affordable cities like Baltimore and Dallas. But to accommodate that demand, cities need to make it easy to build more homes in these locations, otherwise rents will follow the same pattern as in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

While cities like Austin, Phoenix, and Atlanta are some of the natural inheritors of superstar city-dwellers seeking more affordable but still urban living, there is also an opportunity for smaller cities to benefit from a shift to fully remote work. One is already trying to seize it.

Like many American cities, Tulsa, Oklahoma, struggles with population growth and attracting high-wage workers. In order to combat this, a program called Tulsa Remote was launched offering $10,000 grants and “numerous community-building opportunities” to fully remote workers to move to Tulsa for a full year.

“Tulsa did not just offer the $10,000,” Upwork chief economist Adam Ozimek told Vox. “Tulsa has also worked to build community for remote workers and create lots of local amenities. Tulsa was also the first to do it and this has been unequivocally good for Tulsa ... but I would be surprised if anybody found out [$10,000] works out by itself. No one’s going to make lifestyle decisions around $10,000.”

Downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, May 10, 2021.
 Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images

The Economic Innovation Group released a report in November outlining the results, finding that the program “is expected to be responsible for 592 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs and $62.0 million in new labor income for Tulsa County in 2021 alone. In total, for every dollar spent on the remote worker incentive itself, there has been an estimated $13.77 return in new local labor income to the region.”

Making housing more accessible is great, but the impact of remote work won’t be cheaper house prices for everyone. While people who formerly lived in urban areas and can now move to the periphery would likely see a reduction in their housing costs, those who already live there, or who live in more affordable cities, would see their housing costs increase. While the average cost of housing would decline in this scenario, the differential impacts are important for policymakers to consider so that they preempt unwanted displacement by liberalizing zoning laws.

Remote work and the climate

Density is a carbon mitigation tool. Densely populated areas can benefit the most from transit and walkability. They can also reduce energy costs. If fully remote work becomes possible as the vast majority of American localities plan for sprawl and electric vehicle growth remains sluggish, it could exacerbate the climate unfriendliness of our built environment.

“Both logic and empirical evidence suggest that developing more compactly, that is, at higher population and employment densities, lowers VMT [vehicle miles traveled]. Trip origins and destinations become closer, on average, and thus trip lengths become shorter, on average,” reads a report by the National Academies. Whether remote work has a negative carbon footprint relies on what types of communities people move to and how that influences their energy consumption and driving behavior.

Most evidence thus far has shown that as people have moved over the last year, they’ve generally stayed within the same metro region but tended toward the suburbs. In May, Stanford economists Arjun Ramani and Nicholas Bloom termed this the “donut effect,” with the hollowed-out center representing the declining demand for urban life during a pandemic that forced many urban amenities to shutter. This effect is concentrated in the 12 most-populous metro areas.

But these don’t have to be your father’s suburbs. Recode’s Rani Molla has reported on the “urbanization of the suburbs,” writing that while people are leaving cities for the suburbs, they are bringing their taste for city amenities with them — these new suburbanites like walkability and access to a diverse array of restaurants and stores. If suburbs become more walkable and transit-friendly, and our land use laws allow for mixed-use development such that housing can be built near job centers, shopping centers, and schools, it could mitigate the harms of this change. As always, every locality should stop subsidizing the cost of parking and make it easier to take climate-friendly transportation.

The Stanford researchers note there isn’t a significant amount of movement happening between metro areas, which indicates that at least so far, hybrid remote work is a more likely outcome than a large number of workers going fully remote.

Remote work may need more time for its true impact to be felt. While many people may have moved to the suburbs in a state where they already resided, that decision was likely influenced by their uncertainty around how long remote work would be permitted in the pandemic and after.

The carbon impact of fully remote work is highly uncertain. There are many reasons to think that it would be negative: People moving toward less dense areas without access to transit networks and into a land-use legal framework that incentivizes large single-family homes and sprawl does not bode well.

For some, remote work could eliminate commuting, which is a significant contributor to workers’ emissions. As the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explained in a recent interview on Vox’s policy podcast The Weeds, “a culture where Zoom is considered a perfectly decent replacement” could curb the most carbon-intensive travel of all: air travel. Depending on a lot of factors, the reduction in flying could outweigh any increase in commuting by car.

It’s also possible that focusing on urban geography as a major part of the solution to the climate crisis is misguided. “My bet would be that the energy sector-specific changes are more important than the future of remote work,” Thompson said. That is, pushing the US to electrify vehicles and get more of its energy from low-carbon sources like nuclear, wind, solar, or hydropower is likely far more important than marginal changes in density.

Remote work and politics

In recent years, Democrats have grown increasingly concerned as college-educated voters cluster in heavily liberal-leaning states. This exacerbates an Electoral College and Senate advantage for Republicans, whose constituency is more evenly distributed across more of the country.

Will Wilkinson outlined many of the political harms that have accompanied urbanization in a Niskanen Center research paper, “The Density Divide: Urbanization, Polarization, and Populist Backlash.” He argues that polarization has been amplified by “the self-selection of temperamentally liberal individuals into higher education and big cities while leaving behind a lower-density population that is relatively uniform in white ethnicity, conservative disposition, and lower economic productivity.”

It’s not just that there are higher-paying jobs in Los Angeles than in Youngstown, Ohio — the nation has been segregating based on people’s openness to experience and liberal attitudes.

Dense places vote for Democrats.
 Niskanen Center

Remote work could change some of this. While some people might still sort based on those characteristics and stay in deep blue states, others will find there are enough liberals in cities like Bozeman, Columbus, or Austin, to make do. Others still could forgo these preferences in favor of slashing their cost of living, deciding that it’s fine to live in a neighborhood of the opposite political party as long as you can afford a pool.

As Arizona’s population has grown in part from California emigrants (one study showed that 23 percent of all Arizona immigrants came from California) Democrats have netted benefits, winning both Senate seats and the state’s 11 Electoral College votes in the 2020 presidential election. Increasing numbers of college-educated voters could advantage Democrats further in the state, as well as in places like Georgia, Florida, and Texas.

But the impact of more remote work might not be that straightforward: In August 2020, Thompson theorized that a “demographic shift could reshape American politics. A more evenly distributed liberal base could empower Democrats in the Sun Belt; accelerate the Rust Belt’s conservative shift; strengthen the moderate wing of the party by forcing Democrats to compete on more conservative turf; and force the GOP to adapt its own national strategy to win more elections.”

But an influx of well-educated, highly paid coastal expats could affect the political trends of existing residents in other, unexpected ways. Coastal emigrants’ views might change because part of what was making them Democrats was living in diverse and dense communities.

There’s also a chance that in many of these states, existing institutions could stifle liberal sentiment.

At the local level, as long as these states’ governors and statehouses remain Republican, state preemption laws could hamstring localities from enacting policies that reflect an increasingly liberal electorate. Republican states have stepped in to make it illegal for localities to tax plastic bags for environmental reasons, to prevent localities from extending anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people, and Indiana attempted to cripple a bus rapid transit system in Indianapolis.

As blue cities gain prominence in red states, it is likely to set up showdowns over the limits of municipal power. These fights will only intensify if left-of-center voters flock to electorally vital red and purple states.

Another important political trend is that newcomers will trigger NIMBY sentiment wherever they go. NIMBY-ism is a product of scarcity, not a deficiency solely found near the ocean, and as higher-income Americans move where their dollar goes further, existing community members are likely to balk at the changes.

As the New York Times’s Conor Dougherty reported last February, “The Californians Are Coming. So Is Their Housing Crisis.” Locals are angry, Dougherty writes: “in Boise, ‘Go Back to California’ graffiti has been sprayed along the highways. The last election cycle was a referendum on growth and housing, and included a fringe mayoral candidate who campaigned on a promise to keep Californians out.”

Localities have the opportunity to reduce the economic costs of newcomers and preemptively bring down the temperature by liberalizing their zoning laws and investing in market rate and affordable housing as well as enacting anti-displacement measures in order to reduce the conflict. But some conflict is inevitable; as one dispatch from East Austin recounted, residents of a “new luxury building” began calling the police on a neighborhood tradition.

This past year shows that government can have a large role in shaping how remote work plays out. Expanding broadband access to ensure that the ability to do remote work is equitably distributed, liberalizing zoning laws, investing in amenities to attract knowledge economy workers, and ensuring that the gains from growth do not solely accumulate to the most well-off — that’s all in policymakers’ hands.


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