“With the leverage that employees have, and the proof that they can work from home, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” he said.

Fearful of losing one more junior employee in what has become a tight job market, Mr. Singer has allowed a young colleague to work from home one day a week with an understanding that they would revisit the issue in the future.

doctrinaire view that folks need to be in the office.”

Amanda Diaz, 28, feels relieved she doesn’t have to go back to the office, at least for now. She works for the health insurance company Humana in San Juan, P.R., but has been getting the job done in her home in Trujillo Alto, which is about a 40-minute drive from the office.

Humana offers its employees the option to work from the office or their home, and Ms. Diaz said she would continue to work remotely as long as she had the option.

“Think about all the time you spend getting ready and commuting to work,” she said. “Instead I’m using those two or so hours to prepare a healthy lunch, exercising or rest.”

Alexander Fleiss, 38, chief executive of the investment management firm Rebellion Research, said some employees had resisted going back into the office. He hopes peer pressure and the fear of missing out on a promotion for lack of face-to-face interactions entices people back.

“Those people might lose their jobs because of natural selection,” Mr. Fleiss said. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if workers began suing companies because they felt they had been laid off for refusing to go back to the office.

Mr. Fleiss also tries to persuade his staff members who are working on projects to come back by focusing on the benefits of face-to-face collaborations, but many employees would still rather stick to Zoom calls.

“If that’s what they want, that’s what they want,” he said. “You can’t force anyone to do anything these days. You can only urge.”

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House Hunters Are Leaving the City, and Builders Can’t Keep Up

River Islands, the development where the Namayans hoped to live, is in Lathrop, Calif., which has a population of 25,000. It sits about a half-hour beyond Altamont Pass, whose rolling hills and windmills mark the border between Alameda and San Joaquin Counties. Though technically outside the Bay Area region, Lathrop’s farms and open fields have been steadily supplanted by warehouses and subdivisions as it and nearby cities have become bedroom communities for priced-out workers who commute to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

In Livermore, on the eastern side of Alameda County, the typical home value is nearing $1 million, according to Zillow. That falls to $500,000 to $600,000 over the hill in places like Tracy, Manteca and Lathrop. The catch, of course, is that many residents endure draining, multihour commutes.

The pandemic may have upended that economic order, in California and elsewhere. Thousands of families that could afford to do so fled cities last spring, and while some will return, others will not — particularly if they are able to continue to work remotely at least part of the time. One recent study estimated that after the pandemic, one-fifth of workdays would be “supplied remotely” — down from half during the height of the pandemic but far above the 5 percent before it.

If those trends hold, it will make it easier for many workers to live not just in farther-out towns like Lathrop but to abandon high-cost regions like the Bay Area altogether. Midsize cities that for years have tried — usually in vain — to recruit large employers through tax breaks can now attract workers directly.

“If Google moves to Cleveland, that’s great, but if one Googler moves to Cleveland, that’s also great,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist of Upwork, a freelancing platform.

To some extent, the pandemic accelerated a shift that was already taking place. When the housing bubble burst, members of the millennial generation were in their teens and 20s. Now the oldest of them are turning 40, and about half are married. They are hitting the milestones when Americans have traditionally moved to the suburbs.

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Welcome to the YOLO Economy

In addition to the job-hopping you’d expect during boom times, the pandemic has created many more remote jobs, and expanded the number of companies willing to hire outside of big, coastal cities. That has given workers in remote-friendly industries, such as tech and finance, more leverage to ask for what they want.

“Employees have a totally unprecedented ability to negotiate in the next 18 to 48 months,” said Johnathan Nightingale, an author and a co-founder of Raw Signal Group, a management training firm. “If I, as an individual, am dissatisfied with the current state of my employment, I have so many more options than I used to have.”

Individual YOLO decisions can be chalked up to many factors: cabin fever, low interest rates, the emergence of new get-rich-quick schemes like NFTs and meme stocks. But many seem related to a deeper, generational disillusionment, and a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.

Several people in their late 20s and early 30s — mostly those who went to good schools, work in high-prestige industries and would never be classified as “essential workers” — told me that the pandemic had destroyed their faith in the traditional white-collar career path. They had watched their independent-minded peers getting rich by joining start-ups or gambling on cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile, their bosses were drowning them in mundane work, or trying to automate their jobs, and were generally failing to support them during one of the hardest years of their lives.

“The past year has been telling for how companies really value their work forces,” said Latesha Byrd, a career coach in Charlotte, N.C. “It has become challenging to continue to work for companies who operate business as usual, without taking into account how our lives have changed overnight.”

Ms. Byrd, who primarily coaches women of color in fields like tech, finance and media, said that in addition to suffering from pandemic-related burnout, many minority employees felt disillusioned with their employers’ shallow commitments to racial justice.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are extremely important now,” she said. “Employees want to know, ‘Is this company going to support me?’”

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