Virtual Work — How More Americans Working From Home Will Shake Up Real Estate

Photo by Stuart Miles for Digitalphotos.net

Photo by Stuart Miles for Digitalphotos.net

Candy recently wrote about attending the Northwest Region 2015 and Beyond meeting that featured a speaker from the North Central Texas Council of Governments (and Candy). Highlights included the poor condition of our roadways (no surprise there), the growth of the Metroplex (no surprise there) and the love affair Dallas is having with tollways (no surprise there). The surprise is how bad it is — $24 billion needed just to catch up on repairs to existing roadways and a further $95 billion in improvements.

About the only way to minimize commuting’s impact on your life is to skip it. Here’s my story:

I work for a German technology company – from my home. My boss lives in Silicon Valley, his boss lives in Munich and her boss lives in upstate New York. My team lives in Virginia, Michigan, Munich, and California. I support a sales organization covering the globe.

In the past, working from home meant few choices – telemarketing, home daycare, or some other small desktop business like an accountant, insurance agent or financial advisor. Until recently, working from home didn’t generally include well-paid positions within global businesses. But as with many things, technology and attitudes have changed.

Most studies support working remotely as being more productive than traditional offices, largely a result of less distraction. Also, managers may be in the same boat as workers, not wanting to live in high-rent and/or congested locations. There’s also the shift in ideology about work being more project focused and as long as workers meet deadlines; where they’re met doesn’t matter.

My personal journey saw me leave hometown Chicago in 1998 for Silicon Valley, in 2001 I left for Houston, in 2004 I left for Florida, in 2006 I left for Phoenix, and in 2007 my whirlwind decade finally came to a stop in Dallas. Aside from Dallas, each move was work-related for positions that required “butts in seats” at corporate headquarters. That changed when I decided to move to Dallas because my job no longer cared where I worked.

Working Remotely Opens up Location Possibilities

Working Remotely Opens up Location Possibilities

For real estate, it matters that people like me are becoming increasingly common and we’re often choosing less expensive cities to live in – cities that we want to live in. While colleagues live in high-rent locales like California and D.C.-adjacent Virginia, I live a much more expansive life while earning the same salary. For some colleagues, this has meant living in a rural settings away from the urban life required of so many companies.

How will populations shift when a significant number of workers have the choice of living where they want to versus where they must in order to make a living? Certainly many smaller towns with the right infrastructure will rise from decades of slumber. People priced out of overly expensive areas like New York City and Silicon Valley (almost everyone) will be able to contribute and earn a good salary from an affordable distance.

And as the high-paid workers spread out some, that may leave space for regular folks to better afford to live in these places.

States, like Texas, wooing large corporate headquarters in hopes of bringing jobs into the state will find the benefits diminishing over time. In the future, securing jobs in this fashion will rely on the manufacturing and services sectors where workers have no choice but to be in the same location (and commute). After all, it’s difficult to assemble a car using home workers and next to impossible to get a decent haircut via a video call.

But what it will do is slow the moving mania that gripped myself and millions of others chasing corporate headquarters at the expense of roots. Of course the smallest reason businesses are enabling remote working is for worker comfort. The big reason (of course) is that it makes economic sense.

Remote workers work more hours and are more productive (for the same salary). Remote workers also do not require office space, office furniture, air conditioning, electricity and company-provided internet access. There’s tons of money to be saved and workers’ personal time to gobble up. (This is not to say workers don’t benefit also. Living where you want is huge, going to the gym in the middle of the day when there’s no crowd is great and not having to navigate a fridge of co-workers furry leftovers are definitely benefits.

There are also two camps on home working and socialization. Many think working from home is a lonely experience away from water coolers and idle chit-chat. And for some it may be, but I’d encourage you to try it first for a few months. Some people love people and their engagement during the day only fuels their social involvement after hours too.

All This Can Certainly be Done Remotely

All This Can Certainly be Done Remotely

Me? I’m one of those people who has a set amount of how much “people” I can take in a day. When I worked in an office, upon returning home, I was D-O-N-E with people. I didn’t seek out friends or social situations very often. Now, working from home, I seek out social situations, pick-up dinners with friends and running around snooping for CandysDirt.com.

In addition to location shifts, living requirements will change. Centuries ago, it was common to have a dedicated workspace in your home for many professions. Since the industrial revolution, this largely went away as workers centralized in offices. A return to home work will require dedicated spaces for work within the home.

Yes, many homes have “home offices” that range from a laptop station in the kitchen to a full-blown library-like room. But I challenge many of these configurations as being either casual spaces or “show” offices where little work gets done. What current housing stock doesn’t really have are actual dedicated spaces outfitted for actual 9-5 office work.

Because of the reliance on certain technologies to enable remote work, locations are important. Video is increasingly being used to facilitate the face-to-face communications found in office environments. Seeing a guest bedroom in the background or hearing the clatter and screech of children and pets diminishes professionalism. Working space is also important for the worker. Setting up a work area in a cluttered, dark and uninviting place is no way to eke out a day’s work.

For real estate, home workers need a slightly more thought-out office setup. Are the right “drops” for internet in the room? Yes, we all use wireless internet for PCs and mobile devices, but desk phones and some video cameras require a wired internet connection. If there are children in the house, a separate dedicated office connections may be required to sidestep bandwidth-hogging. Is the proposed office in a semi-secluded location away from the noises of daily life? Well-lit? Devising a checklist for the home worker may win you praise from a home-working client. It’s certainly something we’ll be seeing more of.

Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)! sharewithjon@candysdirt.com

One Comment

  • mm

    Jon I LOVE working from home, loungewear (activewear?) and all, and you are right, it’s more productive. But you have to minimize interruptions if you don’t live alone. When I worked downtown at D, it took me 30 minutes to drive downtown, another 30 to park and then walk to the office. Same home, perhaps longer. That was 2 hours out of my day where I could have produced at least 1 more blog post (possibly 2) or exercised. Of course, the walking was refreshing. Like you, I also drive a lot and scout properties, something you don’t do chained to a seat in a high rise. But the interruptions at home really need to be dealt with firmly if you don’t live alone. Hello, this is my office, stay out and leave me alone!