If you live in a small to medium-sized city, you’ve probably noticed some interesting changes over the last two years. Maybe a local restaurant that was only open for dinner suddenly has a new lunch menu. Or the gym that used to empty out by 9 a.m. now has a rush in the early afternoon. Or there are just more people everywhere—walking their dogs, standing in line for coffee, and crowding the playgrounds on the weekends. And everything, including rent and home prices, just seems to be getting more expensive.
If this all sounds familiar, chances are you live in a remote work hub.
What is a remote work hub? A remote work hub is a town or city that used to be full of commuters, but because of the recent shift to remote work, is now becoming its own mini-metropolis. In remote work hubs, workers don’t stay home all day as they did during the beginning of the pandemic, but they don’t commute into offices, either. Instead, they’re pulling out their laptops in the local coffee shops, or heading to on-demand coworking spaces like Daybase to jump on a Zoom call.
They’re taking up more space, spending more time and money locally, and transforming the demographics of the town or city where they reside. And as remote work becomes the norm (Upwork, an online platform for freelancers, estimates that over 40 million Americans will be fully remote in the next five years), it’s essential that residents of remote work hubs—whether they’ve lived in a neighborhood for 30 years or recently moved there—understand the unique opportunities and responsibilities they have to the community where they live, work, and play.
Remote work’s influence on our neighborhoods and communities is something Michelle Delk, a partner with the landscape architecture firm, Snøhetta, is very familiar with. “You might be working at home, but that doesn't mean you want to sit indoors all day,” she tells Daybase.
Delk’s main focus at Snøhetta, as well as on the board of Urban Design Forum where she oversees programs, is on what she calls the “urban public realm,” or shared spaces that exist for both commercial and communal use. The pandemic shifted her perspective on how we live and work, just like it did for many of us, and right now, Delk is reimagining the value of public space in terms of community health and how we can make shared spaces more inviting for everyone.
Along with the team from Snøhetta, Delk is working on transforming a privately owned public space in midtown Manhattan into a greener, friendlier, and more accessible community resource. This includes building up the topography around the private building to create a hillside that encompasses the building. The hillside itself allows wide-open greenery, flexible plaza space, public bathrooms, water features, and new shops and restaurants. “In terms of how we think about public space, small spaces can be really, really effective because they can be easier to access,” explains Delk.
For many present and future residents of soon-to-be remote work hubs, there is a real desire for more shared public space—especially outdoors—and turning unused land or even office parks into places for gathering, exercise, and community building should be a priority.
There is also a need for restaurants, stores, and venues. Millennial and Gen Z remote workers, who are generally happier with shorter commutes or no commutes at all, prefer to be within walking distance to their food and entertainment. Those restaurants that used to be open only in the evenings and on the weekends? This is the crowd they’re serving at lunchtime (and you may have even noticed that the menus are adapting to this younger demographic). But while remote workers are enjoying fresh-pressed juices and BLTs, the restaurant and retail industries are still suffering from the hits they took during the pandemic. Many restaurants still have smaller staffs, issues with their supply chain, and a lot of catching up to do (if they’re able to bounce back at all). As Delk points out, in many cities, the pandemic has only exacerbated the inequality between those who work at restaurants, and the people who can afford to eat there.
“One of the questions I think we're going to have to think about looking ahead is affordability and access for people who live and work in [remote work hubs],” says Delk. “If you're working your job remotely or are hybrid, maybe you go in every once in a while, but you don't have to live in the city where your business is based. That doesn’t mean you want to sit inside at home all day.”(We certainly hear that, and that’s why a Daybase membership can be a lifesaver here.)
But there’s more to think about, Delk continues. "If you want to go out and get the things that you need—whether that's groceries or coffee or dinner with a friend—if folks working in the service industry aren't able to live close to their jobs, then those services will start to go away.”
That’s why, when it comes to the challenges of remote work hubs, it’s important for everyone from residents to city planners to remember that convenience is not the same as accessibility. Gramercy Park in Manhattan is a great example of this. The pristine, gated green space is convenient to the neighborhood residents, the large majority of whom have a household income over $200k/year. But because the park is only available to those residents and no one else, it is not accessible—especially for people who can’t afford the five-figure rents. When it comes to building up remote work hubs, special care needs to be taken to ensure shared spaces are accessible, and that longtime residents aren’t alienated or pushed out of these neighborhoods as folks from higher tax-brackets move in.
Katie Grissom, the managing director at Asana Partners, a mix-use real estate investment firm primarily focused on developments in near-urban cities, is keenly aware of how an influx of remote and hybrid workers can change a neighborhood. She calls the new live-work-play model “15-minute cities,” meaning if you live in that city, you can do anything you need and want to do within 15 minutes. “Retailers want to be in vibrant, near-urban neighborhoods with really strong authentic identities, and employers want to set up locations in these convenient, highly-amenitized neighborhoods to lure employees into the office in a way that resonates with their lifestyle,” Grissom tells Daybase.
“Hoboken—which is where the first Daybase is located—is a great example, as remote workers are driving retail, as well as residential and multi-family development in the area.” Grissom contends that remote workers are ultimately helping businesses bounce back after the pandemic, but there’s still work to be done in terms of making remote work hubs accessible for everyone who lives there.
The solution, she explains, is having shared respect for the community, listening to what all residents want (not just the wealthier ones), and ensuring that neighborhood investments provide opportunities for every demographic. “The key is spending time with the community,” says Grissom. “It's very rare that everyone is going to agree, but keeping the authenticity of the neighborhood is important.”
In 2018, Asana Partners acquired Krog Street Market, an award-winning bustling food hall in Atlanta, Georgia, where, according to Grissom, almost every vendor is minority or women-owned, which mirrors the demographics of Atlanta itself. “We’re drawn to diverse neighborhoods across the country like the area surrounding Krog Street Market.”
Ultimately, if remote work hubs are going to be successful, it’s essential that newcomers, as well as current and longtime residents, work together to ensure that the community remains a place where everyone—no matter where they work—is able to thrive. This means getting outside your house—and maybe even your comfort zone— and actively participating in the well-being of your neighbors.
“We should certainly support our local businesses,” explains Delk. “Not only financially, but also with empathy and understanding around the challenges they’re facing that may not be easily seen. Get to know your neighborhood and what's going on in your neighborhood—not just as an individual, but also as a participant.”