WHAT IS ZOOMSHOCK?
How working from home is reshaping society
The question of the moment is what is zoomshock?
Rather than a new line of Nike trainers, zoomshock instead refers to the effect that working from home is having on society. With covid-19 forcing a lot of the workforce out of the office and onto the laptop, the ramifications are far-reaching, exciting, and a little concerning.
If the trend of working from home continues, we can expect to see big changes in how we structure our societies. From the places we live, the people we see, and the things we do in our spare time, zoomshock is shaking things up in a way never before seen.
WHAT IS ZOOMSHOCK CHANGING?
At the height of lockdown, 70% of people in the U.S.A. worked from home in some form. The numbers are similar here in the UK, with around 60% of us discovering the joys of zoom meetings, pajama bottoms, and wayward dogs entering the frame.
And while setting up shop at home took a little getting used to, the change went a lot better than expected. Despite the tendency to work longer hours, people have reported feeling generally happier working at home. And to keep the bosses happy, with no rush-hour traffic and a more relaxed morning routine, the average worker productivity also rose by around 5%.
Now though, as the grip of COVID-19 begins to loosen, the prospect of returning to the five-day commute looks far from appealing. In a survey encompassing thousands of opinions, one study found that most Americans want to continue working from home for at least two or three days.
While less bullish on the idea, employers are preparing for change too. Most companies are expected to offer a flexible approach to remote working with workers working from home one or two days a week. For many workplaces, balancing working from home with the benefits of a dedicated workplace is something they’re still figuring out. With fewer people in at once, savings can be made in terms of office space. On the other hand, the prospect of micro-managing a hybrid workforce is something middle-managers everywhere are screwing their faces at.
However things pan out, working from home is now something most of us have experienced. Pre-COVID, just 5% of people in the U.S. understood the joy of belting out a tune while pouring over spreadsheets. With the pandemic forcing the hand of industry, it’s likely that at least 20% of the entire U.S. workforce will now be permanently working from home, mostly in communication roles like support.
For governments and policymakers, this drastic shift in economic activity is something they’re watching closely. Bringing work out of the office and into the suburbs means a radical change in where we’re spending our cash.
Take a morning walk through a city pre-COVID, and you’d see coffee shops doing particularly well with plenty of taxis picking people up and dropping them off. Lunchtime was much the same story. People would use their hour break to get their haircut, do a little shopping and grab something to eat. After work, money was piled into the city economy, too, as people went to the gym, had after-work drinks, and visited restaurants.
Office-land has therefore always been considered an economic hotbed, with businesses thriving off a centralized workforce. The implications of zoomshock for these locally consumed services (LCS) are massive.
While economists – unfortunately – don’t have a functioning crystal ball, they’ve been busy making predictions. And, for these LCSs, it’s not good news. One study, published in December 2020, estimates that if 50% of us work remotely just two days a week, local services will see a 20% drop in demand. And with less demand comes less growth and an effect on jobs.
While the inner-city services have suffered over the pandemic, local businesses have done well. The local coffee shop, for example, is now a welcome escape from the bedroom boardroom. Rather than squeezing in a fresh cut on a lunch break, we are now getting to know our local barber a lot better.
While these are minor changes in behavior for the individual, the compounding effect means an enormous amount of money is now being spent closer to home, in the suburbs.
CHANGING WHERE WE LIVE
We’re not just changing where we buy our lattes either.
With the office no longer such an anchor, many workers are choosing to live further away from the city. Cities like London, New York, and San Francisco have been especially affected, seeing an exodus of people who no longer feel geographically tied. With the average commute taking around 25 minutes, working from home twice a week will gain at least 43 hours a year. Apply this over the average working life of 38 years, and you’re looking at nearly 70 days saved staying at home rather than clogging the arteries that serve the urban heart.
It’s no surprise then that people are reassessing their living arrangements.
And the city’s loss is the suburb’s gain, with more and more city-dwellers swapping the condo for a contemporary detached house. Thanks to prolonged lockdowns, urbanites have found themselves with significant savings.
Now with remote working looking to be a permanent fixture for many, the suburbs are a-calling. The zoomshock effect is being felt here, too; suburban housing markets are experiencing a boom. An increasing number of people are selling their city apartments and putting their savings into suburban property.
With city properties still fetching a pretty penny, suburban property prices have also been driven up. This is leading to many locals now being priced out of their own communities.
Rural communities are experiencing zoomshock. New York’s Hudson Valley, for example, has found itself flooded with newcomers. Drawn to the vineyards, farmland, and beautiful scenery, wealthy urbanites have drawn the property well dry. Over in Hudson Valley, locals have found themselves left out in the cold, with fierce bidding wars causing inflated prices.
While good for local businesses, the social effects are potentially devastating. Unable to compete with deep pockets looking for a quaint remote office, families are finding themselves geographically separated and communities fragmented.
With housing markets overheating, landscapes will inevitably change. Property construction will ramp up with companies looking to cash in on demand as well as an increase in local services hoping for loyal local patronage.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO CITIES
Despite fear-mongering, the reality is cities are going nowhere. While life is undoubtedly never going to be the same again, remote working is an opportunity to restructure things for the better.
We’ve been sticking together in cities for at least 6000 years. This population density has led to both prosperity and disease, with the upsides understood to outweigh the downsides. Cities draw high-skilled labor, creativity, and culture. For those who love the city, the prospect of losing these thriving urban sprawls is a shame.
What will happen to cities is still a matter of conjecture. Some believe they’ll survive and remain essentially unchanged. For these people, COVID-19 may seem like a never-before-seen disruptor to our lives, but cities have bounced back from worse. When the Spanish flu ravaged the world in 1918, the world’s major cities experienced strong growth. People didn’t fear the city. They instead flocked to it for the opportunities that a drop in population produced.
On the other side of the coin, some believe cities will need to be reshaped. Pandemics are expected to become routine over the coming decades, meaning cities may come to be seen as health hazards. In order to draw people in, some changes are expected to stick around.
A move to a cashless economy will be accelerated, with old bills seeing far less use than they before. The layout of our cities is also likely to change. A push for pedestrianization and mobility schemes such as scooters will ensure people can keep their distance should they so wish. Additionally, public transport may need to regularly implement disease prevention measures like social distancing to stay ahead of the pandemic curve.
Nevertheless, remote working and a potential aversion to cities will mean less footfall. With many businesses relying on passing trade, the commercial side of cities will experience a drop in revenue. For some, this will be one straw too many, leading to widespread closures. With the young and disadvantaged relying on such retail and service businesses for jobs, it’s unclear what opportunities will remain viable for them.
Zoomshock will affect all of us, whether we work and live in the city or not. At the minute, everything is speculation. None of us really know how the world will look after COVID-19, but the consequences are slowly emerging.
With companies like Google looking to adjust pay based on remote working geography, workers may soon be forced to make hard decisions. A suburban home office might save money on fuel, wear and tear, and unnecessary expenses, but a 10% pay cut might undo those benefits.
For many, however, working from home saves more than money. It reduces stress and means more time with loved ones, friends, and family.
This article was written by contributing writer Matthew Wiliams.
Matthew is writer with a focus on lifestyle and technology.
Check out his previous story on the Rise Of NFT Art.