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A Shift to Working From Home Raises Many Questions About Potential Effects on Other Aspects of Daily Life

August 6th, 2020 by

working from homeA few weeks into Governor Murphy’s stay-at-home order, New Jersey Future and others commented on how the sudden and dramatic drop in driving was producing a corresponding drop in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. We wondered how much of the increase in working from home, and its accompanying air-quality benefits, might persist even after the pandemic eventually abates, especially now that many workers and employers are finding that a lot of meetings don’t have to happen in person and that they can accomplish much of what they need to do without direct personal interaction with coworkers.

But a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is just one of many possible downstream effects of having a larger share of the workforce work from home on a more or less permanent basis. Going to work is the single biggest reason that most people leave the house every day. What else might happen when leaving the house is no longer built into many New Jerseyans’ daily routines? Before we aspire to lock in our unexpected gains in reducing our carbon footprint, the law of unintended consequences suggests that we should consider what other effects might come as part of that bargain.

What will happen to all the office buildings that are abandoned by at least part of the white-collar workforce that used to occupy them during the day? What will happen to the central business districts—or the suburban office parks—that host those workplaces?

What will happen to the restaurants, delis, pharmacies, and other businesses that cater to the needs of the office workforce? How about these same types of businesses that are located where the new crop of telecommuters live? Will living near non-work destinations become more appealing when work no longer requires you to leave the house? What will happen to retail in general? Will shopping behavior change?

What might happen to parking demand if a lot fewer people are in their cars every day? How about road capacity? Might this create opportunities to reimagine spaces formerly devoted to cars?

How might a reduced need to commute to work affect people’s decisions about where to live? How might working from home affect our social lives?

New Jersey Future has attempted to game out some of the likely effects—both positive and negative—on the geographic patterns of residence, employment, shopping, and travel behavior if the stay-at-home advisories of the pandemic era translate into a permanent increase in the number of people working from home. Read our insights here.

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