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Downtown Austin is looking like itself again as big tech returns to the office

(Laura Figi/Austonia)

With another pandemic winter behind us and the threat of omicron waning, workers are grabbing their briefcases and heading back to the office.

Kastle Systems, a property technology company, reports almost 62% of Austin metro offices were occupied as of March 30, a figure that jumped nearly 9% from the week before then. It's higher than what's seen in Dallas and Houston and even metros on the coast.

This return to the office in Austin and elsewhere is being driven in part by big tech.

For example, some Google employees returned to the office months ago. Last month, Google said it expected most workers to return to offices three days a week and have two days of remote work by this month.

@brynn_buono what it’s like working at Google ATX #google#dayinmylife#austin♬ Aesthetic - Angium

Starting next week, Apple will ease out of remote work by starting a hybrid schedule that requires two in-office days weekly and tacks on another in late May.

Reporting from the Wall Street Journal noted that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other leadership at the company work from Hawaii, Cape Cod and Europe though workers made a return to the office on March 28.

This increased office activity means downtown Austin is bustling once again for office workers, influencers and people looking for entertainment. TikTokers are pointing to their favorite dining spots like the Fareground Food Hall. Castle Hill Fitness just brought back weekly workouts for yoga, dance and cardio. The Paramount Theatre is hosting a comedy festival this month while venues like ACL Live and Stubb's Bar-B-Q have regular shows slated for the spring and summer.

This liveliness is only the start. With tower announcements and leases from giants like Meta and TikTok pouring into downtown, there's bound to be even more activity in and outside the office in the coming months and years.

Sixth of Guadelupe will lease all 33 of its commercial floors to Facebook parent company Meta.

A February study from the Pew Research Center shows 60% feel less connected to their coworkers now, showing a want for back to office work. Still, a majority, 61%, say they are choosing not to go into their workplace.

Andrew Brodsky, a professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, says labor market conditions are favorable to employees at this point in time.

In the case employees don't want to return to the office, they can find a company that will allow remote work.

“Part of what organizations are struggling with is that some employees really want to come back to the office because they like that collegiality, they’re much more productive in the office and other ones want to just continue working virtually,” Brodsky said. “So there’s a little bit of conflict from two sides about how to remediate that.”

Different incentives, such as Google reimbursing workers for a subscription to e-scooter maker Unagi or allowing hybrid schedules, could be part of the solution for companies to get employees back in the office and fill newly-leased buildings.


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