In the Facebook office building in Seattle. (GeekWire file photo / Kevin Lisota)
The majority of tech workers in Seattle don’t expect to ever return to their offices full-time in the business district.
The results of a Sea.Citi poll released today show that the population of workers who once occupied offices, bars, restaurants and apartments in downtown Belltown and South Lake Union are moving to the suburbs after nearly two years of remote working amid the pandemic looks.
“Remote work is here to stay,” said Nicholas Merriam, CEO and co-founder of Sea.Citi, a nonprofit civic group in the technology industry. “And the data shows a fundamental change in the way technicians are involved in their environment.”
The detailed survey of 467 technicians between June and August also showed that although more than 50% of workers would consider moving out of Seattle – although not all were specifically spurred on by remote working options – the same workers remained very interested and committed to the prevailing one social situation are concerns of the city, affordable housing and homelessness, racial justice and climate change.
When it comes to urban policies to curb homelessness, 55 percent of respondents rated this as their main problem, with almost as many – 52 percent – placing affordable housing at the top of their civic concerns, followed by climate change (45 percent) and racial justice ( 32 percent).
In addition, the tech employees surveyed showed a high level of commitment to the topics. Racial justice was of the greatest concern, with 67 percent saying they gave either money or time to racial justice and equality groups. Additionally, a majority of respondents are currently paying close attention to how their employers are handling the stock concerns.
For homelessness, 63 percent said they either donated to organizations or volunteered for organizations that want to fight the problem. For the same criteria, climate change inspired 51 percent of respondents to donate or give time. Affordable housing was 34 percent and saw it as the highest priority.
All four topics will be decisive in deciding who to choose, the survey showed. Overall, 95 percent of those surveyed are committed in some way to at least one social issue.
“People here really care,” said Merriam. “They are ready to invest time and money in what they believe in.”
But those beliefs have shown signs of shifting since the first Sea.Citi poll in 2019. The expansion of public transport and bicycle infrastructure as a top issue fell by almost 10 percent from 39 percent to 30 percent. Similarly, congestion as a concern decreased from 38 percent to 24 percent of technicians.
Related: Are Technical Workers Coming Back to Downtown Seattle? That’s what companies are planning
Merriam speculated that working from home not only temporarily solved some of the traffic problems, but also made people less focused on them. “If you don’t fight it every day with your car or bike, think less about it,” he said.
But the longer-term change in attitudes seems to be where people see themselves, where they live, and that in turn could change which issues are important and where people donate and volunteer. The vast majority of the technicians surveyed – a whopping 84 percent – say they will either work part-time (56 percent) or full-time (28 percent) remotely. In addition, 53 percent are open to or have already moved.
The top two reasons for moving? Affordability of housing and the lure of remote work.
“There will be fewer people downtown, period,” said Merriam. “This will change what we use the city center for.”
Downtown Seattle was one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the city, adding 48,000 people to 82,000 residents since 2010. However, it is unlikely that changes in the environment will be limited to people who move. When people move, the place they shop, eat, and do volunteer work changes, Merriam said. The survey seems to point precisely to this point.
When asked if “the ability to work remotely means (workers) are more connected and invested in their neighborhood or city, rather than the city center where their offices used to be”, was the answer is a resounding yes.
Of the people who have moved or are considering moving, 70% said they would end up more connected to their new neighborhood or city and less to downtown Seattle. While this could be bad news for downtown Seattle nonprofits that are pulling donations and volunteers from local technical staff, it could conversely be good news for suburban or neighborhood charities.
“That matters,” said Merriam. “When people move, they are still looking for that connection. But they are looking for it in a new place. What is not so good for the inner city can be good for the suburbs or neighborhoods. “
Read the full survey results below.