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Remote work already changing Seattle permanently, tech worker survey indicates – GeekWire

Inside Facebook’s Seattle office building. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The majority of Seattle tech workers don’t expect to ever return to their offices full time and the effects of that transition could alter everything from commercial real estate, to what social issues tech workers spend their time and money on, to downtown’s status as a business district.

Released today, findings from a Sea.Citi survey show that the population of workers who once filled downtown Belltown and South Lake Union offices, bars and restaurants and apartments are now looking increasingly to the suburbs after nearly two years of remote work amid the pandemic.

“Remote work is here to stay,” said Nicholas Merriam, CEO and co-founder of Sea.Citi, a tech industry civic issue engagement nonprofit group. “And the data reveals a fundamental shift in how tech workers engage in their environment.”

The detailed survey of 467 tech workers between June and August also showed that while more than 50% of workers would consider moving away from Seattle — although not all specifically spurred by remote work options — these same workers remain deeply interested and engaged in the prevailing social concerns of the city, affordable housing and homelessness, racial equity and climate change.

When it comes to city policies to curb homelessness, 55 percent of respondents rated it as their top issue with nearly as many — 52 percent — putting affordable housing at the top of their civic concerns, followed by climate change (45 percent) and racial justice (32 percent). 

Moreover, the tech workers surveyed showed a high level of engagement in the issues. Of leading interest was racial justice, with 67 percent saying they either gave money or time to racial justice and equity groups. Additionally, a majority of the respondents currently pay close attention to how their corporate employers deal with the equity concerns.

For homelessness, 63 percent said they either donated to or volunteered with organizations seeking to combat the problem. For the same criteria, climate change inspired donations or time from 51 percent respondents. Affordable housing issues came in at 34 percent seeing it as a top priority. 

All four issues will be leading factors in making a decision about whom to vote for, the survey showed. In all, 95 percent of respondents has some form of engagement with at least one social issue.

“People here really care,” Merriam said. “They are willing to put time and money into what they believe in.”

But those beliefs are showing signs of shifting since the first Sea.Citi survey in 2019. Increasing public transit and cycling infrastructure as a top issue declined by nearly 10 percent, from 39 percent to 30 percent. Similarly, traffic congestion as a concern dropped from 38 percent to 24 percent of tech workers.

Merriam speculated that working from home not only solved some of the traffic problems temporarily, it also made people less focused on them. “If you are not out there battling it every day on your car or bicycle, you think about it less,” he said.

But the longer-term attitude shift appears to be where people see themselves living and that, in turn, could change which issues matter, and where people donate and volunteer. The vast majority of tech workers surveyed — a whopping 84 percent — say they will either be working remotely part time (56 percent) or full time (28 percent). Additionally, 53 percent are open to moving or have already moved. 

The two top reasons for moving? Housing affordability and the lure of remote work. 

“There will be less people coming downtown, period,” Merriam said. “This will change what we use downtown for.”

Downtown Seattle had been one of the city’s fastest-growing neighborhoods, adding 48,000 people since 2010 for a population of 82,000. But the changes to the area are unlikely to be limited to people moving. When people relocate, it alters where they shop, dine and volunteer, Merriam said. The survey seems to indicate this point exactly.

Asked specifically if, “the ability to work remotely means (workers) will become more connected to and invested in their neighborhood or town, and less in the downtowns where their offices used to be,” the answer was a resounding yes.

Among people who have moved or have considered moving, 70% said they would end up more connected to their new neighborhood or town and less connected to downtown Seattle. While this could be bad news for downtown Seattle nonprofits that pull donations and volunteers from tech workers there, it could conversely be good news for suburban or neighborhood-based charities. 

“This is significant,” Merriam said. “When people move, they still seek that connection. But they seek it in a new place. What is not as good for downtown might be good for the suburbs or neighborhoods.”

Read the full survey results below.