Remote Work Won't Radically Change Where We Work

As tech firms like Apple expand their satellite offices and remote work opportunities, economists and work experts debate just how much the dispersal made possible by remote work will be held in check by the forces of agglomeration.

July 21, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


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In 2012, economist Enrico Moretti published his analysis of economic agglomeration in his widely read The New Geography of Jobs, in which he cited the "Great Divergence" between the places with concentrated talent and jobs and the places left behind by economic development. Now, with remote work opening up new possibilities to live and work in more diverse places, will this model be dismantled?

Moretti doesn't think so, writes Greg Rosalsky. The Berkeley economist "believes that computer screens remain a poor substitute for being face to face. Living and working near one another, he says, allows for random collisions of brains that can spark new ideas. Ideas that would not be generated on Zoom."

"In 2020, a group of economists surveyed 22,500 American workers and executives and found evidence that remote work would 'stick' — but they weren't talking about full-time remote work. The average office worker, they predicted, will work two days a week from home — as Apple is now allowing its workers to do. That's a huge change. But it still means that workers will have to be in the office three days a week. 'If that's the case, the link between place of work and place of residence will stay intact,' Moretti says."

To Moretti, the "gravitational vortex" of agglomeration is too powerful a force to be completely eliminated.

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