Will the COVID-19 pandemic have a lasting impact on cities?

With teleworking rates likely to remain higher than pre-pandemic rates, changing consumption patterns and housing preferences could have big implications for cities, the Conference Board predicts.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

The share of workers who continue to work from home once the COVID-19 crisis is over is likely to remain relatively high, according to the Conference Board. That could have major a impact on US city centers, the nonpartisan think tank argues, as people change their housing preferences and consumption patterns to meet their work-from-home lifestyles. 

Before the pandemic, the share of workers who primarily worked from home was relatively small, economists from the Conference Board noted in a blog post. In 2018, it was just 3.4 percent. 

However, they wrote, "Work trends change slowly. COVID-19 forced them to change quickly. A higher incidence and more frequent teleworking during the COVID-19 crisis may be one disruption that sticks."

The group predicts that in the near term -- in the next one to two years, before a COVID-19 vaccine is available -- teleworking will be most desirable in large cities where residents rely heavily on public transportation. In the New York City metro area, nearly one in five workers commutes via subway, putting them at higher risk for contagion than workers who drive or walk to work. 

"Even after full vaccination, with the economy at full capacity, teleworking rates are likely to remain well above pre-pandemic rates," the Conference Board writes. 

In turn, people will find less value in living near city centers, impacting housing demand. Meanwhile, people will spend less money on food services, retail and other areas within city centers. 

"Retail shops and food services with a concentration in city centers may want to consider diversifying their geographic portfolio," the group recommends. 

Editorial standards