We report a strategy to create photodegradable poly(ethylene glycol)-based hydrogels through rapid polymerization of cytocompatible macromers for remote manipulation of gel properties in situ. Postgelation control of the gel properties was demonstrated to introduce temporal changes, creation of arbitrarily shaped features, and on-demand pendant functionality release. Channels photodegraded within a hydrogel containing encapsulated cells allow cell migration. Temporal variation of the biochemical gel composition was used to influence chondrogenic differentiation of encapsulated stem cells. Photodegradable gels that allow real-time manipulation of material properties or chemistry provide dynamic environments with the scope to answer fundamental questions about material regulation of live cell function and may affect an array of applications from design of drug delivery vehicles to tissue engineering systems.