The Great Relocation: why American workers are on the move

In this WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing, we look at a migration in the US working population to warmer and cheaper locations, Glassdoor’s top places to work, and why go-getting graduates want to be in the office

First there was the ‘Great Resignation’ as millions of American knowledge employees quit their jobs and millions more on both sides of the Atlantic announced their intention to do so. Now, it seems, there is the ‘Great Relocation’ as American workers, freed by the coronavirus crisis from the daily commute to the corporate headquarters, start to move to different parts of the country.

Internal migration on such a large scale has not been seen in the United States since people  decamped to the suburbs in the early 1950s, according to a report in The Economist. This quotes a forecast from freelancing platform UpWork which estimates that somewhere between 14 million to 23 million Americans may relocate due to the rise of remote work. It amounts to between 9 and 13 per cent of today’s US workforce.

‘Internal migration on this scale has not been seen since people decamped to the suburbs in the early 1950s…’

The pandemic has accelerated existing trends for people to seek out smaller towns and suburbs in the south and southwest with a warmer climate, cheaper homes, less density of population, lower crime rates and lower taxes. Data also suggests more people leaving and fewer moving into large cities, such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

This new report contradicts a recent Harris Poll survey with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs which found that, despite the challenges of coronavirus, big city residents (those living in central city or downtown areas) remain eager to stay in cities. Seven in ten residents living in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, and Philadelphia metro areas said they preferred to live in a big city.

So, what is going on? Clearly, while some urban residents hang tight, other segments of the US working population (including those with young families) are on the move. The three zip codes with the most changes of addresses for new arrivals are in suburbs just outside of Houston and Austin in Texas, and Jacksonville in Florida – close enough to access the city but far enough away from the worst aspects of urban living. And where people go, companies are bound to follow. Local chambers of commerce in the most popular locations are already geared up to attract big employers.

As the pandemic continues to shake up the working model, we haven’t seen the full impact of the ‘Great Relocation’ yet.

Tech’s top places to work

Tech firms have led the way in offering flexible work options to their employees during the pandemic. So could they now be reaping the reputational benefits in terms of staff attraction and retention? According to Glassdoor’s latest survey of top companies to work for in the UK in 2022, that appears to be the case.

California-based software company ServiceNow is number one on Glassdoor’s listing of top places to work, which is based on anonymous reviews. IT consultancy AND Digital is second and cloud-based software giant Salesforce is third. Clearly, technology firms were well positioned to respond rapidly to the coronavirus crisis, but not all is rosy in the tech firmament. Meta (formerly Facebook) sneaks into the top ten in tenth place, behind management consultant McKinsey & Company in seventh.

Everyone back to the office

Despite growing evidence on the desire for flexibility, such as that provided by Glassdoor’s survey, not everyone is convinced that remote working is the future. Some business owners are adamant that employers who offer lavish work-at-home perks are making a strategic blunder.

According to a report in Fortune magazine, the most ambitious job candidates might prefer to forsake the more libertarian work-from-anywhere model in favour of companies that unapologetically want employees on the premises as much as possible. WORKTECH Academy has termed these firms ‘resolute returners’ and their ranks include big financial players such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase.

The report cites research by advisory firm Universum, which surveyed college and business school students about their most admired prospective employers and found that the most go-getting graduates want to head for employers offering the most in-person interaction and best opportunity to build a network.

So, the jury’s out. Some prospective employees favour the freedom and autonomy afforded by the tech firms; others cannot wait to get behind an office desk and start currying favour in a big finance house.

2022 events for early birds

Interested in the issues discussed in this WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing? Then check out our WORKTECH events calendar for 2022 to engage in the big conversation on the future of work and workplace. Our first two events will be conferences in London and Amsterdam.

SMART BUILDINGS22 London  will review what smart technologies and workplace strategies are being adopted by companies globally to increase building efficiency and enhance employee experience in a bid to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis.  Super early bird rate here

WORKTECH22 Amsterdam will cover key topics including hybrid work models, workplace design, smart building technology, employee experience, wellbeing, and much more. Super Early Bird rate here

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 12 January 2021.
Find exclusive content in the


Premium content for Global Partners, Corporate and Community Members.
The latest analysis and commentary on the future of work and workplace in four distinct themes: Research & Insights, Case Studies, Expert Interviews and Trend Publications.