Emily Weddington put some distance between herself and her office in Atlanta during the pandemic.
It’s now, give or take, 240 miles door to door.
She and her husband have the same Atlanta-based jobs they did before COVID-19. She’s in marketing for a company that produces corporate reports and he’s in finance for a commercial real estate firm.
The two just no longer live in a house with a small yard in Brookhaven, Ga. Instead, they are in another time zone. They bought a bigger house on five acres outside Nashville. They each have an office in their Tennessee home. They’re closer to his parents. And their two English Setters have room to run.
When she looks out her backdoor, all Weddington sees is green space. “It’s a sense of relief: We are not crazy,” she said. “We can do this.”
For many Americans, the pandemic redefined jobs and workplaces. Shuttered offices and relaxed work-from-home policies meant not having to make daily commutes.
For some, the new flexibility cleared the way for really remote, remote work. They kept their jobs but moved to another part of the United States or stayed put after landing a new job that traditionally was based elsewhere. Many expect it to last long after the pandemic.
While long-distance working existed before the coronavirus, companies have become increasingly open to more employees living far from where their jobs would traditionally be based. The shift poses new benefits — and challenges — for job seekers, employers and, potentially, communities such as metro Atlanta where office-based work is a big part of the economy.
People looking for jobs could dramatically increase the number of positions they pursue without having to factor in cost-of-living changes, pulling kids out of school or being farther away from family and friends. But they also could be competing with more people from virtually anywhere.
Work-from-home job postings increased 199% nationally for the 12 months ending in March compared with the same period a year earlier at CareerBuilder, a job listings and recruitment company.
At another jobs site, Indeed, the number of U.S. job postings mentioning “remote work” and related terms has doubled during the pandemic. The share of those postings grew even as more people returned to offices in recent months.
“The rise of remote work has been one of the most dramatic effects of the pandemic — and might be one of its most long-lasting,” Jed Kolko, the company’s chief economist, wrote in blog earlier this year.
But offices likely aren’t going away, and most jobs still don’t offer long-distance flexibility.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey in January found nearly 30% of office employees want to work remotely five days a week after COVID-19 is no longer a concern. But the majority surveyed wanted to spend some time at the office each week. And most employers surveyed think they need to.
About 7% of Indeed’s U.S. postings were remote this past February, versus about 3% in January of 2020.
The spike varied by category. About 22% of software development job postings were listed as remote last year compared with nearly 9% in 2019, according to Indeed. For legal jobs, the share grew from nearly 5% to about 16%, banking and finance increased from less than 4% to over 15%, and therapy rose from just over 1% to more than 6%.
The year before the pandemic, Nikki Forman landed a communications job with a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., and asked about remote working from Atlanta, a city she had grown to love. She was told it made more sense for her to be in the office, where she could connect with other staff.
That all changed once the coronavirus swept the nation. The nonprofit sent people to work from home.
Forman left her expensive apartment in Washington and her regular walks to monuments along The Mall. She holed up at her parents’ home in Columbus, Ga., working from the family’s kitchen table, backyard and the bedroom where her sister had grown up.
“What that community offered me was the family feeling, the comfort of being home,” she said.