Zoom towns are described as small communities that grow quickly due to the rise in remote jobs. These towns have grown over the last year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and are expected to continue as more companies have shifted to a work-from-home dynamic. This includes engineers from all disciplines, which begs the question: are some engineering jobs dependent on being onsite in company offices or labs? Some experts don’t think so, but as with any remote job, there are caveats. Engineering companies have relied on their workforce to be onsite, collaborating with one another to ensure their endeavors are well designed, reliable, and function within allotted specs.
With the emergence of fast internet, Wi-Fi, 4G, and other telecommunication technologies, more companies have gradually adopted a work-from-home ethic. The pandemic has hastened, or in some cases, forced some companies to adapt to that change to maintain workflows and productivity. While the transition isn’t necessarily seamless, those telecommunication systems have made the transition less complicated. Technically, any engineering job that doesn’t require onsite activity can be done remotely, more so for software engineers.
The same can be said, at least in some part, for computer engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, and even civil engineers — although it’s rare. According to a 2021 survey from Andela, a talent firm for remote engineering job placement, 66% of engineering leaders believe remote work is here to stay. The survey also found that 13% of remote engineering jobs were fully remote before the pandemic, and that number has increased to 74% today. Considering those jobs can be performed at home, are more engineers moving out of cities in favor of Zoom towns?
The answer to that question may be surprising. According to a report from Bloomberg, more Americans are leaving cities, but it’s not necessarily a large migration, even for engineers. It’s been over a year since the pandemic began, and numbers are starting to emerge that paint a clear picture of where people have moved. Data shows that many remote workers who did move have remained close to where they came from, meaning they moved from inner cities to the suburbs rather than migrating to Zoom towns. But the trend of moving out of cities predates the pandemic, which is denoted by the amount of traffic coming into densely populated areas. In contrast, suburban areas and smaller cities saw an influx in population growth.
The pandemic’s economic fallout, housing prices, taxes, and job opportunities are significant factors that affect where people will migrate. Before the pandemic, cities such as New York and San Francisco dominated the U.S. economy as bastions of innovation and job growth, even with advances in telecommunication technologies that would allow people to work remotely. That reality came to an end post-pandemic, as those same cities struggled to keep local economies afloat. The shift to working from home in most industries that can support it made it possible for workers to leave packed city centers while simultaneously bolstering the economy of urban areas.
Smaller cities have even begun to offer cash incentives for remote workers to move there, including Tulsa, Oklahoma, which offers a $10,000 grant for those who purchase a home, providing increased incentives for engineers to migrate from major population centers. According to The State of Remote Engineering (2021) report from Terminal, 75% of engineers want the option of working remotely and from the office, which supports the Bloomberg data on the influx in urban population growth. Of the engineers surveyed, 46% state that working remotely has made them consider leaving large cities, further supporting the Bloomberg model of residing in urban areas close to large cities.
To offset those numbers, 38% of engineers state their mental health has gotten worse since the pandemic outbreak. While the work-life balance, less stress, and non-commuting are cited as top benefits to remote working, some engineers have found the practice isolating, with a lack of day-to-day interaction. They also found it hard to collaborate, have felt they were not part of a team, and are lonelier than before the pandemic. Some companies have instituted virtual get-togethers similar to happy hours or doughnut breaks, provide flexible hours, and arrange for frequent management check-ins on work progress to mitigate those feelings.
That said, most engineers and companies have adapted to working remotely over the last year. Many would prefer a hybrid solution that allows them to benefit from both worlds, which is why a majority have abstained from migrating to Zoom towns and prefer to live in open, urban areas near larger cities. They also state there are great job opportunities where they are located and don’t feel the need to move to a different location.
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