As remote work transforms Silicon Valley, moving companies are making a fortune helping tech workers flee to smaller towns and putting their startups' office furniture into storage
Business for moving companies in the San Francisco Bay Area is booming. Services are in high demand as tech workers leave the region now that they can work remotely because of COVID-19. The shift illustrates how the pandemic will reshape Silicon Valley for years to come. Entire companies are ditching their offices and moving their furniture into storage as they pivot to remote-first business models.
As the pandemic rages on, increasing numbers of tech workers are ditching Silicon Valley. It has major consequences for the region's future — and is great news for the businesses hauling their belongings. In interviews with Business Insider, people working in the moving industry in the San Francisco Bay Area said that business is booming, with remarkable numbers of people turning their backs on the region and moving away over the last few weeks and months, despite the added logistical difficulties created by the pandemic. Their comments add to the growing pile of evidence that COVID-19 and the associated wave of remote work will radically reshape Silicon Valley, the heart of America's tech industry, for years to come — including impacting the region's sky-high residential and commercial real estate prices. "Business has been ridiculously busy," said Kevin Twibill, the founder of San Francisco-based Corrib Moving and Storage. "We're turning away work because we don't have more employees." Moves associated with sales of family homes are down, he said. but there has been a major uptick in moves from apartments and shared properties. "Most of them move home, from where they were ... instead of paying $2,000 for their 20-square-foot apartment downtown, they're moving back home." Jim Morris of Oakland-based Sweet Lemon Moving Services agreed. "There's a lot more people moving out ... it's significant enough that it's easy to notice."Many are moving out to more scenic, less urban areas, he added: "We see a lot more movement out to the Central Valley and the foothills and Lake Tahoe region," as well as Santa Cruz and Napa. The tech industry has long had a troubled relationship with the Bay Area. The region is beset by issues — and the industry contributes to many of them — including a high cost of living, a major housing crisis, and terrible traffic. Now that its offices, shops, bars, and other amenities are off limits because of the pandemic, some tech workers say they have no reason to stay and are considering leaving the region, and some real-estate professionals in rival regions have said they've seen an uptick in interest. The pandemic has forced companies around the world to move abruptly to an entirely remote workforce, and some high-profile San Francisco-headquartered tech companies — notably Twitter and the bitcoin startup Coinbase — have since announced they will allow most employees to work remotely after lockdowns end. Facebook expects half of its workforce to be remote in 10 years. In a recent poll of thousands of Bay Area tech workers, two-thirds said they'd consider leaving if they could permanently work remotely, with a third saying they'd think about going even if they had to take a pay cut in order to do so. Unprecedented numbers of people are also sticking their stuff in storage as they consider their futures. "As a company we [always] kind of book up to full capacity, but one thing I can say is I've moved a lot more storage jobs where people are putting their stuff into storage," said Alex Parocha, the San Francisco manager for Massachussetts-headquartered moving company Gentle Giants Moving Company. Twibill has seen similar: his firm has "storage coming in every single day," when it's "normally once or twice a week." The majority of traffic is going in one direction: out of the Bay Area. Parocha says he's "seen more jobs going out of the Bay versus coming into the Bay" in recent times, with the ratio skewed more heavily to people leaving than normal. San Mateo-based The One Move, meanwhile, said that while their overall business hasn't increased, destinations are changing, said one co-owner. "We're seeing about the same activity level as last June ... but seeing more of people move out of the Bay Area or out of state." (There are of course still some folks moving to the Bay Area: "Yeah we've had some, wouldn't say it's a lot," said Parocha.) Entire businesses are also turning their backs on the region. Twibill said he was getting far more calls than normal from startups asking them to pack up their offices. And that many of them are getting their furniture put into storage rather than relocated to a new office space, an unusual move for a business that indicates they may be foregoing having a physical presence entirely for the indefinite future: "They're just giving up their offices." Many companies who want their offices packed up aren't even bothering to return to supervise the move, Morris said. "[They're] not meeting us there, just giving us diagrams and so forth." Got a tip? 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