When the COVID-19 pandemic forced offices to close almost overnight earlier this year, people all over the country scrambled to figure out how to work from home. But after months of spending all day, every day inside; taking Zoom calls in unconventional locations for quiet and privacy; and having roommates, family members, and pets make cameos in the background of work meetings, many individuals have decided to trade in their cramped quarters for more spacious, cost-effective lodgings.
Stay-at-home orders and public health concerns associated with living in densely populated areas have prompted many people, especially city-dwellers, to reevaluate their living situations and relocate during the pandemic. A study by MyMove.com that looked at change-of-address data from the USPS found that over 15.9 million people filed mail forwarding requests in the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic, a figure that’s up 3.92% from the same time period in 2019.
No longer tethered to the vicinity of their office, some individuals decided to break existing leases to find apartments with more space or buy a house. On the other hand, many people who lost their jobs or didn’t want to renew leases amidst the uncertainty moved home to live with family. For some, these new living arrangements might be just a short car ride away from their former homes, while for others it’s meant moving to a new city or state miles away from their company’s office.
But if you’re one of these long-distance movers, what will happen when offices eventually reopen? Ultimately, it depends on your company’s policies: They have the power to change your salary based on your new city’s cost of living, or even let you go if you cannot report for work in person.
Many employees are hoping businesses become more accepting of fully remote work whenever offices reopen. In fact, a 2020 report by anonymous professional network Blind found that 32% of employees said they’d accept a paycut to work from home as much as they would like.
Uprooting your home and embarking on a move is not a decision to take lightly. It’s crucial to have all the information you need before making such a big change, especially during the uncertain times we’re living in. Here are the things you need to keep in mind if you’re considering relocating during COVID-19, or thinking of going fully remote in the future.
Before you pack all your belongings in boxes, you’re going to have to crunch the numbers. The last thing you want after you’ve moved is any surprises — especially financial. When you’re budgeting for your new place of residence and lifestyle, make sure to take the following factors into consideration. And remember, some costs may be obvious but others might be more hidden, so you need to be really thorough in your information-gathering here.
While every organization has a unique way of calculating a role’s salary, one of the most influential factors in determining that value is cost of living. “It's much more expensive to hire an employee in New York or San Francisco than Olathe, Kansas or Goodyear, Arizona,” said Laura Handrick, contributing HR professional at Choosing Therapy, an online mental health education platform. “If you choose to move out of a pricey urban area, it's possible you are undermining your potential earnings once your employer brings staff back to the office.”
On the other hand, moving from a more rural or suburban area to a big city could lead to a salary bump, depending on your company’s policy. But as most people continue to flee large cities in favor of more space and a lower cost of living, it’s more likely their salaries will stay the same or decrease. Even Facebook, which has been a big proponent of remote work and won’t return to the office until 2021, announced it plans to adjust the salaries of employees who leave Silicon Valley, notoriously one of the most expensive cities in the country.
While temporary moves, like sheltering-in-place with family until the office reopens, probably won’t impact your earnings, an interstate or even international move might come with a compensation review from your HR team.
“Every company has a different compensation philosophy, and if you are not sure where your company stands on this you should ask before you make any decisions on moving,” urged Jaci Sanchez, People Operations Manager at Fountain, a hiring software company for recruiting gig and hourly workers.
Make sure you know your company’s policy to avoid being caught off-guard by any significant salary adjustments when the office does reopen.
Another factor that you should consider before signing on the dotted line for a new home is what your future commute will be. While many companies keep pushing office return dates further out, the situation could change quickly and your company’s office could reopen. If that happened, what would your commute look like in your new living situation? Would you need to buy a car, purchase a monthly rail pass, or pay for parking?
One of the many perks of working from home is that your commute is nonexistent, but when the world starts returning to normal, you could be asked to come back to the office. You’ll need to determine if you’re willing to make the commute from your new home every day — not only financially, but also mentally. After all, sitting in rush hour traffic isn’t anyone’s favorite way to decompress at the end of a stressful day.
Of course, wherever you choose to reside will affect what local, state, and federal taxes you pay as well. This is a big factor to weigh when deciding whether or not to relocate.
“You should always check with a tax professional to see how that would affect your tax situation,” advised Sanchez. “You also need to make sure your company is accepting relocations to the place you are looking to move. They may not be open to setting up a tax entity in that location/state.”
If you’re considering moving across state lines, be sure to sit down with your HR team to see how your new address will affect your paycheck.
If you’re contemplating moving further away and becoming a remote employee, you also have to consider how this could impact your ability to get ahead in your career or stay with your current company. While COVID-19 has made many organizations more open to and understanding of remote work, that mindset could fade when offices reopen.Here are a few factors to consider before taking the leap to fully remote work.
Unfortunately, remote employees can often be “out of sight, out of mind.” Not being physically in the office makes it harder for a remote employee’s colleagues and bosses to know what they’re working on and the progress they’re making. Even top performers have to work harder, speak up more, and advocate for themselves to get heard and have their accomplishments noticed. One study conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business found that even though remote workers outperformed in-office employees by 13%, they were still 50% less likely to get a promotion.
“Going remote has its perks, [including] work-life balance and more flexibility, but it puts the worker at a disadvantage if the person slides into the background,” cautioned Handrick. “Remote workers have to market themselves a bit more internally to make up for the fact that they're not in the room with decision-makers, and could easily be overlooked for a promotion.”
Being fully remote might not even be an option for some roles, like if you’re a People manager, for instance.
“It’s important to consider your career opportunities if you relocate,” Sanchez noted. “If you are hoping to be a People manager, for example, does your company culture [allow for] remote managers? Do you need to be in a specific time zone for the role you are hoping to be promoted into? You might end up losing the job to someone who can be in the office with the team every day.”
Many companies prefer to have managers work in the same office as their direct reports so they can stay on top of their productivity and establish a close working relationship with them. While more companies might be open to the idea of remote managers when things settle back down, some might still prefer that their leadership be physically present in the office.
When considering relocation areas, you’ll want to take into account the frequency with which you’ll be required to visit the office. Even if you’re a fully remote employee, you may still be asked to come into the office for company or team events and important meetings. This might mean you’ll have to travel more by car, plane, or train throughout the year, which could influence where you decide to move, depending on your willingness to travel.
As many of us have experienced firsthand, one downside of being a remote employee is missing out on the in-office connection. It’s harder to meet new teammates, have casual conversations, and get to know colleagues over lunch when you’re solely connected digitally.
“So many innovative ideas and business decisions occur organically when two people are talking over coffee or in a small group huddle as a problem presents itself,” Handrick noted. “When a worker is remote, they're not as likely to be in those conversations and therefore miss out on the opportunity to contribute ideas, share their feedback, or influence decisions.”
Missing out on office chatter is part of the reason why remote workers are so productive, said Handrick, but that can also leave remote teams feeling cut off from their in-office colleagues and out of the loop. Although this is a potential drawback, if you don’t mind working independently and are willing to put in the extra effort to get to know your colleagues, it doesn’t have to pose a significant issue.
In these uncertain times, it’s crucial to prioritize your own health and well-being. So whatever you decide or wherever you choose to move, the most important thing is to do what’s best for you, your career, and your family. And the good news is that this year has given employees more options and flexibility, paving the way for the future of remote work and leaving many employers and managers open to more frequent, if not permanent, work-from-home situations.
No matter what, be sure to keep your HR team in the loop about your plans, so they can help adjust your paycheck, update your address, and assist you in navigating this transition as smoothly and successfully as possible.