The Great Unsticking

Tomorrow’s workplace is scattered around the world—where the workers are. The new hybrid workforce will have a footing in both the traditional office and beyond, as technology offers flexibility in schedules and locations.


The promise of ubiquitous high-speed connectivity has tantalized knowledge workers ever since we advanced beyond dial-up internet connections. But while remote-worker numbers have been slowly growing for the last two decades, we lacked an example of how large-scale adoption of remote work would impact employees and employers—as well as society at large.

And then the coronavirus crisis gave the white-collar workforce a crash course in working away from their cubicles. Some 94 percent of people who began working remotely as a result of the Covid pandemic prefer to continue doing so (at least some of the time) for the rest of their career, and that number ascends to 99 percent for people who were already remote workers.

A growing number of people and businesses are embracing a future where the focus is on what work is getting done, and not where or when it’s getting done. This tectonic shift will not be reversed. As remote, asynchronous work moves into the mainstream, both workers and business leaders will choose new tools to handle distributed teams and departments; the days of having all employees at desks in corporate headquarters are over. Constructs like nine-to-five workdays, five-day workweeks, even four-day workweeks—“workweeks” in general— will soon come to seem like relics of an inflexible dark age.

That’s not to say that Bali and the Seychelles are about to be permanently overrun by freelancing armies of former corporate drones—that’s a pre-Covid vision of digital nomadism. Rather, we’ll see full-time knowledge workers, newly unchained from office-building desks, hopping back and forth between home offices and multiple regional “workcation” destinations. Nor does it mean that the value of face-to-face team dynamics will or should be written off completely: we’ll see an inversion of yesterday’s corporate calendar, with management and operations teams convening periodically for multiday gatherings at retooled resort properties to fine-tune strategy and build group cohesion.



Eleven million Americans described themselves as digital nomads in 2020, an increase of 49 percent from 2019. This should grow to nearly 60 million by 2030. Most importantly, thanks to the pandemic, traditional job holders now make up a majority of workers pursuing this lifestyle, where in previous years the ranks of digital nomads were dominated by independent workers. Digital nomad and work-from-anywhere travelers will help offset the radical decline of business travel. But with nomads staying in carefully chosen destinations for longer periods of time, the frequency of even short business travel trips has forever changed.

Companies will establish digital nomad programs for employees and adopt policies for hiring freelance nomads, making it easier to hire in-demand workers and retain existing employees who wish to move around. These programs will also help employers navigate jurisdictional laws and regulations based on the location of an employee’s work, even if the company is located elsewhere. To balance company needs for employees at headquarters, premiums will be paid to staff who keep their travel to vacation times. Temporary housing for digital nomads will include a range of peer-to-peer rentals, hotel stays with co-work space and communities with global co-living and co-working locations.

Tourist destinations seeking to attract visitors looking for a break from their home workspaces will offer these digital nomads official programs for extended stays. During the pandemic, such destinations as Bermuda, Barbados and Greece were quick to dynamize their off-season offerings to lure digital nomads. Over the next 10 years, major cities belonging to countries experiencing brain drain—in Eastern Europe and the Baltic, for instance—will expand visa amnesty programs to attract globetrotters to stay longer and boost their economies.


After a pattern of growth following the Great Recession (2007–2009), the three largest metro areas in the United States are now shrinking. Global cities all over the developed world started losing some of their population years before Covid. Paris, Sydney and Hong Kong have either shed population or seen growth slow to a standstill. Workers seek affordability and quality of life, and remote work helps bring money and talent to smaller communities.

Office buildings will get smarter to enable the new hybrid workforce with office-to-home connectivity and anticipation of evolving tenant desires.

Twenty-minute neighborhoods will grow in number, with commercial, residential and institutional needs met within a 20-minute walk or bike ride. Smaller-scale offices, retail and hospitality, and co-working spaces will allow people to work closer to home when they aren’t working from inside their homes. Even shopping malls could see a renaissance as they become more dynamic points of encounter by adding satellite office spaces and extended-reality business-interaction centers for remote workers.

Increased attention to universal broadband access will require a change in how the Federal Communications Commission measures internet connectivity—relying less on self-reported data by internet service providers—to ensure that federal money is being spent more effectively in building out robust broadband in suburban and rural areas.


As communities shift away from the workplace, the notion of community will expand, changing formerly solo pursuits to a need for communal space, physically and digitally. The expansion of co-working spaces, whether company-based or café-style, will be equally important to the traditional office. Larger corporations will establish work hubs where employees can still work together in person, closer to home, within reasonable “business travel” distance to headquarters when it’s necessary to be on-site. This will also help companies maintain their corporate culture, a quality too easily lost through remote working but essential for retaining workers and recruiting new ones.

Rather than merely an experience for travelers looking for a different housing option while on the road, van life will grow to include hubs for communities to gather in roving cities. The ranks of US-based “van-lifers” who use vehicles as their primary means of lodging, travel and work increased 36 percent, to 2.6 million, in the pandemic’s first year. New vehicle releases include more proficient telematics, multiple USB ports, dashboard workstations, and truck tailgates that fold out to create standing desks.


Senior leaders and middle managers, who have been the biggest resisters of remote work, now increasingly recognize its benefits and the risk of losing top talent if flexibility is taken away.

But not all workers have jobs that can be performed remotely. Only 37 percent of jobs in the United States—accounting for a disproportionate 46 percent of all US wages—can be done remotely, with significant variation across cities and industries. Even with increasing automation for more than 100 million low-wage workers, in 10 years, 10 percent of jobs will stubbornly resist the transition from in-person to remote.

Take primary and secondary education. Many university and adult courses have the flexibility to pivot online, reaching more students. But due to the inertia of the K–12 school system structure—with its patchwork of local, state and federal education requirements—families with school-age children do not have the same option. Most students will either attend school in person or be home-schooled, with no hybrid offering in the foreseeable future.

The combination of commuting less with improved productivity, wellbeing and flexibility has set the stage for remote work to be a permanent offering, with a hybrid of home/office being most popular. Before the pandemic, one in 10 companies paid for employees’ home office setups. By 2025, we expect that number to hit 65 percent, and by 2030, 75 percent.


The growth of remote work schedules gives workers the ability to more effectively combine their desire to travel with the need to make money. Improved technology and asynchronous collaboration, coupled with work trips being the least-missed type of travel among workers, has changed the emphasis on business travel. As employees become more widely distributed across remote locations, “business travel” will increasingly mean employees traveling from their primary home office locations to company retreats.

With additional freedom in work and travel, workers are more open to traveling during off-peak times of year and days of the week, as well as being spontaneous and booking much closer to their travel dates. One-month leases are growing, with travelers renting peer-to-peer vacation homes for longer stays—even holiday resorts are offering discounted rates for monthlong stays— retaining a sense of place while working and vacationing, not needing to rush back to a physical office.

Many core qualities of hotels give them an advantage over offices and traditional co-working spaces, and their hospitality-first model will draw untethered workers looking for pleasant work experiences and to extend weekends and vacations by working from anywhere. By 2025, many larger hotels will integrate co-working spaces in a hybrid hospitality model, open 24/7 to accommodate various workstyles and needs. Some hotels will offer short-term rentals for mobile workers, while others will transform guestrooms and conference rooms into remote workspaces with “work-from-hotel” packages as an added amenity.