Jul 31, 2023 - Business

The state of Austin's remote workforce, post-pandemic

Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

During the pandemic, Austin was a top destination for remote workers fleeing cities like New York and San Francisco. But will they stay?

Driving the news: According to a recent New York Times data analysis, Austin saw the biggest net gain of remote workers of any major city in 2020-21.

  • 32% of those who moved to Austin were working remote in 2021 — a net migration gain of about 28,000, way up from its pre-pandemic level of 10,000 in 2018-19.

Why it matters: The future of the city's robust remote workforce remains up in the air as some companies' push to bring employees into the office on a hybrid schedule is getting more aggressive, as Axios' Emily Peck reports.

Context: "The people that worked remotely pre-pandemic are very different than the people that work remotely now," Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economist who studies remote work, told the Times.

  • Pre-pandemic workers were often taking pay cuts for the accommodation and more likely to be women and with dynamics like caregiving responsibilities and disabilities, he said.
  • Now, remote workers are more likely to have higher incomes as it has become an added perk.

By the numbers: Vacancy rates downtown remain 3% higher than the metro average, according to the Downtown Austin Alliance's latest quarterly report, signaling that remote work is still having an impact.

What they're saying: Steven Pedigo, director of the University of Texas' LBJ Urban Lab and a professor studying economic development, said he's optimistic that many remote workers will stick around Austin because of the city's social cohesion.

  • "There are always things to do," Pedigo tells Axios. "It's an active town that's still got a way to connect and build community."
  • The city remains less expensive compared to where many moved from, like California and New York, Pedigo added.

The bottom line: Pedigo, who has developed economic strategies for more than 50 cities and regions in the U.S., said the city should continue to address its affordability issues and protect music venues to maintain Austin's identity to keep remote workers.

  • The city has to grow up and "realize that we've got growing pains … as it relates to mobility, density and transit," Pedigo said.

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