At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most urban centers transformed into ghost towns. In Europe, photographers and videographers captured never-before-seen images of deserted plazas and monuments, of empty streets that are usually teeming with life.
In America, the scene was no different. Big cities like New York and Los Angeles saw a mass exodus in 2020, as residents took advantage of remote working arrangements to relocate. The networking opportunities, social gatherings, and street life that make cities great were on pause, and with no escape from cramped, overpriced apartments, urban centers like Manhattan began to feel stifling and restrictive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant a shift in population demographics, which has now translated into a worker shortage in urban areas. Across industries, this shortage is impacting companies’ ability to function at full capacity. Here, we’ll explore how urban centers can entice workers to return, thereby restoring the vitality of big cities.
A Safe, Inclusive Working Environment
Safety is one of our basic needs as humans, but it’s especially important during a global pandemic. Whether your company is running remotely or in person, it’s essential to keep employees healthy in the workplace.
For in-office workers, this may mean providing sanitization stations, encouraging or mandating vaccines, and offering regular cleaning services. Remote workers, on the other hand, can benefit from lifestyle directives, like maintaining a routine, partaking in physical activity, and connecting with their coworkers on topics unrelated to work.
Another growing concern for workers is the inclusivity of their workplace. People want the freedom to be themselves at home and work, especially if they identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or are part of a minority group.
That’s why it’s important to create an inclusive workplace. To build a safe and inclusive company culture, you can educate company leaders, listen to employee concerns, and find ways to celebrate diversity. For instance, holding a charity drive for an LGBTQ+ organization during Pride Month (June) is one way of connecting with employees while contributing to a greater cause.
Fostering diversity also means hiring employees from different backgrounds. Some of these hires may have been raised in a different culture and may speak English as a second language. Understanding intercultural communication is the key to creating a successful and diverse team where everyone feels included and understood. Attracting top talent will be all the easier when employee relationships are respectful and productive, especially across cultural boundaries.
Crunching the Numbers
In addition to better working and living conditions, workers are primarily concerned with pay, including income and benefits. It’s not because they want to hoard money or get rich, either.
Younger people are more drawn to cities, but they’re being priced out. Big cities mean a high cost of living, which is impractical for many millennials. The generation is saddled with debt, with many still relying on their parents financially.
In fact, the average millennial is estimated to have around $27,000 of non-mortgage debt. Most of this comes from credit card payments and student loans. The average wage is not increasing nearly fast enough to keep up with inflation and rising costs of living.
That means many people wishing to partake in urban life simply can’t afford it. When workplaces offer reasonable salaries and benefits packages, and perhaps also a transportation stipend or other incentives, employees will likely again flock to big cities in droves.
Making City Life Desirable
Besides better workplace conditions and higher salaries, cities themselves play a big role in what kind of people you’ll attract and how many. Mid-sized cities, like Nashville and Cleveland, have seen a particular increase in population as people start returning to cities post-COVID.
Many of these smaller cities offer the amenities and social aspects of a large urban center, with a much more manageable cost of living and a lower crime rate. There is also room for growth when it comes to transportation infrastructure and career opportunities, making these places much more affordable and often more pleasant for raising a family.
Human beings were never meant to live in huge cities but instead in smaller communities. That doesn’t mean city life doesn’t come with its perks, but it does mean people are now carefully considering where they plant their roots. One study showed that residents of big cities are 21% more likely to develop an anxiety disorder due to the frenetic pace and stress of city life. Those looking to stay in cities are therefore looking for ways to live a healthier, more relaxed lifestyle in the city.
To entice workers to return to cities, urban areas can implement some changes that are in line with residents’ desires. This may include strengthening transportation infrastructure, preserving parks and green areas, or instituting restrictions on noise and pollution. Such initiatives can vastly improve the quality of city life.
The pandemic has led many people to question everything, from the job they work to the relationships they maintain to the place they live. To retain workers in urban centers, it’s necessary to first provide them with the economic and material conditions they need to thrive in a city.