The first signs of spring and the increasing good news of more vaccine availability to a growing number of Americans offer a glimmer of hope that we are finally leaving 2020 behind and stepping into a brighter future.

But it is a future filled with questions: What will change with people’s comfort level around an in-office culture? For startups and the tech sector, how will these workplace changes impact the future of the workforce and company growth plans?

These key components to our pre-pandemic business operations mindset have certainly changed in the past year, but is that change something permanent, or will we all look back on this time as a small bump in the road?

One year after the global economy came to a grinding halt, signs of improvement across the tech sector could not be stronger. Even as the U.S. economy languished amid a patchwork of regulations, restrictions, and closures across international borders and the 50 states, the unemployment rate for technology jobs held steady at 3% while overall US unemployment was more than double this rate. Technology, tech workers, and remote workflow innovation have proven to be a critical linchpin of the past year and many startups are seizing on this opportunity.

The largest startup hubs in the country have seen significant disruption as well. Top-tier tech talent have taken advantage of remote and distributed teams policies and sought lower costs of living, better climates, and a more balanced lifestyle in the emerging startup hubs and “zoom-towns” that continue to grow even as some large employers signal a shift to a hybrid or in-office culture.

For many technologists the story of 2020 that continues into 2021 is so long Palo Alto, hello Pittsburgh, Park City, and Pensacola.

Among tech talent, one trend is very clear; remote work from anywhere is incredibly productive, but the change in location should also be reflected in employer’s investment in physical and mental wellbeing.

In hopes of better understanding its own culture the impact of the past year’s policies of remote work. Microsoft launched a comprehensive research initiative called the New Future of Work. The findings scraped from data across employees and usage of Microsoft’s suite of products are critical to understand for anyone looking to hire this year.

Among these findings broader trends have emerged:

  • Those employers who are returning to a hybridized in-office culture are targeting summer of this year for employees to begin re-occupying office spaces. For employers and startups without significant real-estate investments, flexible working locations either at home, while traveling, or in co-working spaces will be the norm in 2021. This flexible model is especially appealing for most Americans that plan to resume travel this year. American Express’ recent global travel report finds more people globally wanting to travel as soon as they can. Over half of the survey’s respondents say living and working while traveling is more appealing than it was before Covid 19.
  • Talent is a global commodity. According to Microsoft’s study, “41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer this year and 46% say they’re likely to move because they can now work remotely.”

Remote work is not going anywhere anytime soon. Startups and established companies in 2021 will grapple with a screaming hot talent market where candidates have come to expect increased flexibility as well as a focus on their mental and physical well-being.

Overall, the outlook for 2021 is incredibly positive for the tech sector and for emerging startups ready to disrupt traditional industries. Employees are ready and willing to make changes and make an impact from anywhere, but for employers, landing that top tier talent is no longer just as simple as a localized job posting highlighting standard benefits.

In a highly competitive world in flux, the most competitive startups must be prepared to flex.