The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to work from home indefinitely — in mid-May, 68% of Americans were still working from home in order to avoid the virus. For some employees, that arrangement is likely to become permanent.
Several major tech firms have announced that they'll either substantially loosen or make permanent their current remote work policies. And other companies can expect more interest from employees in telecommuting. About half of employees have found they enjoy working from home, regardless of the pandemic.
If you do end up taking a remote job or your current gig decides to let you telecommute permanently, one of the most important decisions you can make is where you live and work. If your home doubles as your office, there are two things you will require: sufficient space and reliable internet.
Based on these two criteria, Grow set out to determine the best cities in America for remote workers. To do this, we looked at rental data from property listing service RentCafé and internet affordability data from ISP comparison and research site BroadbandNow. Using RentCafé's data, we determined the average monthly rent and space, per tenant, for apartments in 113 of America's largest cities. Those numbers were then weighed against those cities' access to broadband internet for under $60/month.
Appropriately enough, remote work is a popular option in and around many of these places. Several of these cities pop up on a MoneyPenny analysis of the cities with the most remote workers, released in February and based on Census data, for example. Tampa and Boise both appear in the top 15: Roughly 7% of each city's population works from home.
Several of the cities on our list are suburbs or satellites of the bigger and more expensive cities on MoneyPenny's list. Arlington and Garland are both in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex while Tacoma is a suburb of Seattle. Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Pompano Beach are all within an hour of Miami.
Between 2017 and 2018, Boise, Lubbock, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Memphis all saw some of the nation's fastest growth in the population of employees working from home, too, MoneyPenny found.
That six of Grow's top 15 cities are in either Texas or Florida makes sense: The states with the most remote workers tend to be the states with the most people in them, and California, Texas, New York, and Florida have topped FlexJobs' list of states with the highest number of remote job listings since the start of 2019. If you do decide to switch jobs and want to continue working from home, these are the places where you will likely find the most opportunities.
In the states with the highest proportion of remote workers, you may also find employers who are more comfortable with remote arrangements. Colorado tops that list, with 7.7% of employees in the state working from home, according to the Census Bureau. Idaho also shows up prominently. Over 6% of Idaho employees work from home, and Boise is a growing tech hub for people seeking to escape Silicon Valley.
One common misconception about remote work is that employers allow employees to do it from anywhere. In reality, a 95% of remote jobs have some kind of geographic requirement, according to a recent survey from FlexJobs. Those requirements, however, can vary quite a bit.
"Some companies will only hire from the state where they are headquartered. Others hire in several, but not most states. And some will hire in almost, but not all, states," says Brie Weiler Reynolds, a career development manager and coach at FlexJobs. Those geographic restrictions are usually related to job certification or licensing regulations or differing tax laws in various states, according to Reynolds, and they don't tend to be more common in any specific industry.
When moving, experts say it's important to also consider the tax situation in your new state, and ask if your employer will help with moving or living expenses.
If you're planning to work remotely, experts say Internet connectivity and costs are a key factor to investigate before you relocate.
For most remote work, you don't necessarily need a blisteringly fast connection. Unless your job involves working with and transferring large files, like databases or high-resolution media, you just need something that's reasonably fast and reliable, according to Tyler Cooper, editor in chief at BroadbandNow.
"If we're talking about a family of five, and they're all at home, and they're doing online school, and parents trying to work, everyone's trying to do the same thing throughout the day, they're splitting that bandwidth between them," Cooper says.
In more than half of the 113 cities we analyzed, broadband for under $60/month is available in at least 70% of the city. There are a small but significant number of places, however, where affordable broadband is much more sparse.
That includes cities like Boston and Seattle, where cheap broadband is available to less than 8% of residents. In Denver, according to BroadbandNow's data, affordable broadband isn't available, period.
If you're shopping around for internet plans and you need to hop on Zoom calls with any frequency, Cooper says it's important to look at the provider's upload speeds, instead of download speeds, which are more prominently advertised.
The median upload bandwidth in every American city Grow analyzed, except Albuquerque, is fast enough to support one group Zoom conference in HD. Depending on the needs of your household, though, that may not be enough, so make sure to read the fine print.
"It's important to create a separation in your household that includes a space that's dedicated to work, and then when you're off the clock, and you're not thinking about work, you also have a space that you can enjoy, and you can feel like you're at home, and you can have that distance," says Angelina Darrisaw, CEO and founder of C-Suite coach.
Maintaining that division is key if you want to prevent burnout and enjoy being at home when you're off the clock, Darrisaw adds.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
If you're renting and looking to carve out the most space, consider Louisville, Kentucky, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the typical renter enjoys over 700 square feet. Residents of numerous cities on the list also get lots of room. Renters in Boise, Memphis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Tampa, Toledo, Columbus, Columbia, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, and Fort Wayne all get over 590 square feet on average. In nine of those cities, the average tenant also pays under $800 each month in rent.
And a 2018 analysis of single-family homes by LendingTree found the cheapest houses, per square foot, could be found in Indianapolis and Memphis.
Remember that experts warn against buying a house in a city without spending at least a year there first.
Ultimately, the needs of remote workers can vary considerably — some jobs require better connectivity, some individuals need more space and solitude, and different people have different ideas of what a fulfilling social life looks like outside their home offices. For the work itself, all most people need is enough space to get it done and separate it from the rest of their lives, and a decent enough way to connect to the rest of the company. There's no shortage of cities in America that offer both.
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