The past 18 months have accelerated a long-term trend in flexible working, offering many workers – especially tech workers – an opportunity to better balance and balance their work and personal lives. Like it or not, hybrid work is here to stay, presenting a rare opportunity to rethink our inner cities for the benefit of all.
A recent survey of sea.citi technicians found that 8 in 10 workers want to work from home at least two days a week after COVID-19. Tech companies in the region continue to adapt their policies to attract and retain talent, each with a slightly different offering. Amazon recently announced that teams will determine their combination of office and remote work. Facebook extended remote work options to more employees earlier this year. Zillow set foot in the ground as a remote business first. This is a positive and necessary change for workers.
The wave of change from tech companies in our region continues to be misinterpreted as a nail in the coffin for small businesses and property owners positioned to serve a daily flow of workers from outlying areas. Certainly, these trips will create a lasting impact on the urban centers of our region, but the office is not obsolete in hybrid work. In-person collaboration will always be important, but the flow of workers headed downtown will likely favor Tuesday through Thursday and likely not reach pre-pandemic levels.
For applicants for a position this year, this changing landscape offers an important opportunity to reimagine our region. In Seattle, it is a clear opening for the fair recovery that is talked about so much. Outstanding candidates will provide us with clear plans for how the shift to hybrid work can help us weave problem areas and tackle homelessness, affordable housing, racial inequalities and economic recovery. Seattle has everything to lose as more nimble outer suburbs move from dormitory neighborhoods to work-from-home oases.
The strategy of approaching the city center as a neighborhood, a place to live, work and have fun, has great merit. We are already one step ahead with the largest population living downtown over the past decade. The downtown area should not be just a destination for events or a place to work, but a diverse and dense urban community that offers residents all the benefits of living in a big city.
Imagine what the city center could be like if elected leaders and policymakers worked with intention right now: mixed-income housing options that provide life opportunities for residents of varying incomes. The rezoned commercial buildings could include three-bedroom apartments that would attract car-free families, reduce emissions and develop the neighborhood. A new primary school would support these families as they grow older and that is already a possibility.
Newly opened light rail stations would provide access to outlying areas, connecting residents to the area and shuttling labor for less frequent trips. Restaurants and services focus on serving residents with shops and cafes open until 10 p.m., keeping the city center bustling from early in the morning until late at night.
Much of the infrastructure needed to realize this vision is already there, but short-term investments in mental health services, addiction treatment, a dignified refuge and public safety must be made as precursors of change. Over the next decade, targeted public policies and intersectoral collaboration will be essential to transforming the downtown core.
We can only begin this process once we recognize and accept our new reality: COVID-19 and hybrid work policies have forever changed the flow of people in our downtown area. We need elected officials, policy makers and other business leaders who recognize that this change is already underway so that we can start the hard work now.