Local Response | Creating Resilience

Has the pandemic permanently changed where commuters want to live?

April 12, 2023 3 Minute Read

By Michael McGill


The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a significant behavioural shift for many households across the country. Working from home became the temporary norm throughout lockdowns which led to many people revaluating the type of property they wanted to live in and where they wanted to live. The prospect of commuting into the office on a far less frequent basis was enough to convince many to sacrifice shorter commutes for larger homes further away from their office.

Figure 1: Current and preferred commute times, hybrid workers

Source: CBRE Research

And now three years later, with hybrid working cemented as the new norm for many employees, have commuters permanently moved further away from the office?

Our Global Live-Work-Shop Survey finds that the majority, 74%, of hybrid workers in the UK would prefer to live within a 30-minute commute of their workplace.

This shows that workers still want to be close to their office. Even if workers go into the office just two or three times a week, a shorter commute is desired. However, the survey also shows that only 57% of commuters currently live within the 30-minute commute time. Households may be restricted by higher property prices in central areas, but it may also reflect commuters moving to more remote locations during lockdowns.

We have explored this further through an analysis of home sales activity within a 30-minute commute of central London. Figure 2 shows the proportion of transactions in London that were beyond a 30-minute commute of central London. In 2021, there was a spike in these transactions.

Figure 2: Proportion of transactions in London outside of a 30-minute commute of central London

Source: Land Registry, CBRE Research

However, 2022 has seen a reduction in the proportion of sales outside of a 30-minute commute, in line with the results of our Live-Work-Shop survey. The preference of shorter commute times, along with the return of city centres’ ‘buzz’ in the absence of lockdowns has seen demand return to urban locations. As a result, 2022 saw the proportion of London transactions outside of the 30-minute commute zone fall back towards the long-run average.

It's clear that the pandemic has had lasting effects on where we want to live. However, as the new norm of hybrid working has become fully embedded, the mass exodus of city centres has not been permanent. Despite only being in the office for part of the week, hybrid workers still place great value on short commute times.

Explore our full findings in the Global Live-Work-Shop report.


Related Insights