Austin's big tech offices are starting to open up—to varying degrees.
Over a year of remote work later, some companies found it to be the perfect fit, while others experienced less productive employees. Overheard on Conference Calls, a workplace reviews site, ranked Austin as the third best city for remote work last year based on a variety of factors, including cost of living, average WiFi speed, commute time savings and coffee shops per capita.
Nevertheless, most tech companies are adopting a hybrid model, allowing more remote options than they did pre-pandemic but reinstating in-office minimums at the same time. Here's how six Austin offices are handling the transition. (Oracle declined to comment.)
In addition to its corporate office at the Domain, Amazon is also planning to open fulfillment centers in Kyle, San Marcos and Pflugerville. (Amazon)
Office: The Domain
Approximately 1,000 corporate employees
Amazon expects its U.S. office employees will return to the office through the summer, with most back in the office by early fall, according to companywide guidance issued March 30. At that time, about 10% of the company's corporate employees were working from the office full-time.
Office: Riata Vista Circle
Approximately 7,000 employees
Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out an email last week informing employees that they will return to the office three days a week starting in early September, according to multiple reports. Employees will be able to work remotely for up to two weeks a year, so long as management approves their requests.
Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell believes remote working will be the new normal. (Stock photo)
Approximately 13,000 employees in Central Texas
Most Dell employees continue to work remotely, Senior Vice President Mark Pringe said in a statement to Austonia. Before the pandemic, 65% of the company's employees worked flexibly and 30% worked remotely on any given day. Last March, the company transitioned 90% of its team to remote work, and the majority are still remote today.
Moving forward, the company will continue to encourage flexibility and anticipates a hybrid model will emerge. "If employees can successfully do their job from home, they can work with their manager to make the choice to do so," Pringle said."
CEO and founder Michael Dell told the technology news site CRN in March that "remote working is absolutely here to stay," explaining that a company that offers flexibility will be more attractive to potential hires than one that doesn't.
Facebook's downtown office opened at Third + Shoal in September 2019. (Facebook)
Offices: The Domain, Parmer Innovation Center, West Sixth Street
Approximately 1,200 employees
Facebook's Austin employees have not yet returned to local offices, and the company is still developing its return-to-office plan, Head of Local Communications Tracy Clayton wrote in an email to Austonia.
The plan will likely include increased flexibility, with both in-office and remote options. "We believe people and teams will be increasingly distributed in the future, and we're committed to building an experience that helps everyone be successful, no matter where they're working," Clayton said.
Offices: West Second Street, Saltillo
Approximately 1,100 employees
Google declined to share Austin-specific return-to-office details through a spokesperson but referred to a recent blog post from CEO Sundar Pichai, which lays out a plan for all offices. It includes:
- A hybrid work week where most employees spend three days in the office and two where they work best, with in-office time focused on collaboration
- Employees will be able to apply to move to another office or to full-time remote work (compensation will reflect the base location)
Pichai "fully expects" the share of employees working remotely to increase in the coming months, according to the post. He estimates 60% will fall into a hybrid schedule, 20% will switch offices and 20% will work remotely.
An internal survey conducted by Google last June found that engineers reported feeling less productive than they did pre-pandemic, according to reports.
(Brandywine Realty Trust)
Office: Burnet Road
Approximately 6,000 employees
Around 90% of IBM's Austin employees are still working remotely as the company moves toward a hybrid office model similar to its pre-pandemic norm, according to a spokesperson.
CEO Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg in March that he expects 80% of employees to work in a hybrid model post-pandemic, with the remainder staying entirely remote. But he raised concerns about the impact such a split would have on the company's culture. "When people are remote I worry about, 'What's their career trajectory going to be?'" he told the business news site.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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