Should startup companies migrate to the suburbs in the era of remote work?
Creating a startup business takes a lot of time, effort, and know-how. And a little bit of luck, too.
Whether infiltrating an established industry or forging your own path, unique and complex challenges are likely to be levied at prospective entrepreneurs.
A new business owner must have enough financial backing to stay afloat, be surrounded by the right people to help the company grow, and be able to navigate a potentially competitive marketplace, among other things.
“I realized you have to lie to yourself — because if you ever admitted how long it was actually going to take to get started, none of these businesses would have done it,” said Neal Dikeman, a venture capitalist who spoke at Greentown Labs’ Climatetech Summit in November.
Perhaps one of the most important variables when creating your own startup business is the location of your offices. Spoiler alert: You’ll likely want to be near where the action is.
An inclination to move offices back to the suburbs arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, as office culture shifted to become a more remote experience.
In many ways remote work was a happy accident to come from the global health crisis, as it opened the eyes of bosses and CEOs around the world to the positives of keeping still-efficient workers out of the office.
“We’ve grown to value flexibility and independence that remote work affords, and our people have figured out how to master it,” Ed Boyajian, CEO of EDB, told Forbes. “Who wants to go back to a two-hour commute each day? In a permanently remote situation, there are longer term concerns about effectiveness and productivity, but we as leaders need to solve that.”
Creating a startup while working from home, meanwhile, would not be as smooth a transition, especially if where you are working is located away from where all the action is.
While creating a startup in the suburbs can work, there are a number of downsides that could make it the wrong way to physically distance.
Part of the Crowd
When it comes to creating a business, networking is key. No man is an island, and that is never truer than when trying to get those around you to buy what you are selling.
Being in a large city or office park with others who share a common interest or business goal puts you in a better position to find potential co-founders, investors, employees, or even customers.
Would you be able to find all of these things from the comfort of your home or office in the suburbs? Maybe. But would it be more difficult? Absolutely.
“People network every day, although they don’t realize it. Business networking is different for its goal is to meet likeminded people,” wrote Purity Muriuki, a startup blogger. “On the other hand, entrepreneurs and startups can diversify their network by adding companies with different lines of business and staying in touch with them.”
It is no coincidence that the most successful startups come from well-populated areas, such as Northern California’s Silicon Valley, New York City, or Los Angeles.
In addition to being away from where the action is, moving to the suburbs also puts you at risk of being left hanging by venture capitalists who may be less keen on investing in a company that feels holed up or out of reach.
Working (Online) Together
There are, of course, ways to alleviate the strain of being geographically far away. Online events, meetups, and conferences have boomed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance.
Being able to meet with others online, attend business courses, and become part of online communities on platforms such as Facebook and Slack can help a new business owner break through the digital divide.
The ability to work remotely also would allow a startup to hire from a greater batch of potential candidates.
“I think (hiring is) the single biggest problem facing our companies today,” Alex Ferrara, a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, said during a panel discussion at Web Summit in November. “It’s the topic that we talked about with every person in any industry.”
Ferrara attributed the rise in remote work opportunities as a direct result of the pandemic.
“The number of job postings pre-COVID that allowed remote work was something like 20 to 30%, and post is like 80%,” Ferrara said. “It really illustrates how all kinds of companies are trying to tap talent from around the world.”
Participating in online activities can be beneficial for any business owner — making human connections is always going to be critical — but it appears it is absolutely imperative for ones who are working away from a city’s hub.
With all that said, entrepreneurs who have their minds set on working from the suburbs do have some advantages, such as more flexibility and getting to work in a more intimate atmosphere.
The idea of a suburban office has actually become a fashionable trend during the pandemic, with businesses beginning to rent out temporary office spaces for workers who need a day off from working from home.
These retail spaces are set in the comfort of the suburbs and — with the help of digital technology — allow businesses to, as the Wall Street Journal put it, further “blur the distinction between residential and commercial neighborhoods and help remake metropolitan areas.”
Cities in the U.S. have generally been built around where all the action is — namely an area’s central business district — but this could be starting to change.
The transformative appearance of suburban office spaces is likely to continue well after the pandemic finally fades, as companies and employees alike become more accustomed to working together while physically apart.