New data suggest that remote working is here to stay

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a new study which found that remote work is allowing people to move to cheaper, rural areas. This is behind the faster population growth in rural as opposed to urban Minnesota counties seen in the last couple of years. Whether this trend continues seems to depend in significant part on whether recent trends towards ‘working from home’ continue. Census Bureau data suggest that it might.

The share of Minnesotans working from home during COVID-19 rose from 6.4% in 2019 to 20.9% by 2021. Newly released data show that, in 2022, that share fell but only a little, to 17.2%.

Not only does this suggest that the shift toward rural counties might not reverse anytime soon, it also suggests that the urban centers could be in for further tough times. I wrote recently about businesses in downtown Minneapolis pleading for the return of Target’s workers because they need that large section of their customer base. It is also the case that empty offices downtown mean lower property tax revenues. You end up with a sort of downward spiral.

This last effect might not have played out fully just yet. Commercial leases are typically three to five years in length so any signed on the eve of COVID-19 will, more than likely, be coming up for renewal soon — or not, as the case may be.

Whether people work from home or in an office is a question on which we are neutral; it is down to the employer and employee to figure out what works best for them. Those decisions are having — and will continue to have — consequences for us all.