Remote work may be the future for many more employees, and this new reality presents an interesting opportunity for cities like ours. Given recent announcements from technology companies planning to permanently move to remote work, could Bakersfield be seen as a remote work capital?
Back in early March, a few of the largest tech companies in the country — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Twitter — set the tone for U.S. employers, sending staff to work from home as the coronavirus started to spread near their West Coast headquarters. As the Washington Post recently reported, these companies are in no rush now to bring them back.
These tech titans (often referred to as “Big Tech”) plan to keep most workers at home for many more months, Zack Friedman wrote in Forbes. Specifically, Twitter decided to give up on timelines altogether, telling most employees they can work from home forever.
Other businesses across the country have long followed in the trendsetting footsteps of the largest technology companies. We should look to them as a bellwether.
“The pandemic has forced much of Big Tech to face what many individual teams within the companies have known for years: Much of their work can be done remotely and remote workers often are just as productive, at least in the short term,” wrote Rachel Lerman and Jay Greene in The Washington Post.
With that reality and safety issues at the forefront of every employer’s mind, experts expect Big Tech’s extended teleworking timelines to be mirrored by smaller tech firms and outside industries. Of course, not all work can be completed away from the office or job site. Tech is particularly suited to remote working since, for many in this field, all that is needed is a computer. But the pandemic has proven that more jobs than once thought can be done from home.
I can’t help but wonder: What does all of this mean for our own city?
Local resident Alex Rockey knows a thing or two about working remotely. She first became interested in remote work out of necessity. She loved her current position, but her family decided to relocate to Bakersfield for her husband’s job. She’s discovered that working from home allowed her to become more efficient, and she didn’t even have to pack a lunch!
Rockey has been working remotely for the University of California, Davis for the past two years as an instructional design graduate student researcher while she finished her doctorate in education. As an educator and researcher, she specializes in feedback for online education.
I first met Rockey through my nonprofit work and often see her riding her bicycle around downtown with her husband and daughter. Prior to the pandemic, I even saw her a few times at weekend yoga classes. Whenever and wherever I run into her, she always seems so happy. And it turns out that Rockey really enjoys her family’s quality of life in its new city.
Rockey recently accepted a more local job, but it still relates to remote work. Her new position is as an instructional design consultant for the Teacher Education department at Cal State Bakersfield. She’s in the process of helping support faculty members as they serve students in this era of remote teaching. Given her focus on educational technologies, she explores ways to make remote work more enjoyable and productive. She notes that it’s an interesting time as we rapidly create standards and common courtesies in this new video-conferencing space. (We all seem to have our own personal pet peeves for Zoom calls; mine include unmuted multi-taskers and cross-talk screamers.)
Rockey thinks Bakersfield is well-situated to become a hub for remote workers, and I agree. Our city is an affordable option in the middle of what is often considered America’s most desirable, populous and economically productive state. Bakersfield is ideally located between two of the largest (and more expensive) metropolitan areas in the nation, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Lured here by Rockey’s husband’s dream job at Bakersfield College, Rockey explains that since moving, she’s discovered vibrant culture, a lively downtown and thriving food scene. Rockey feels that local leaders, business owners and residents need to highlight the infrastructure that would attract remote workers, like the bike path, local museums and amenities in our city center.
I agree with Rockey that the current focus on remote work is not merely a temporary shift during a pandemic but a larger move toward telecommuting. This is not a short-lived phenomenon, but rather an acceleration towards a trend we have been seeing for a long time.
If Bakersfield can amplify its livability and accessibility within California, it’s likely that many more Alex Rockeys may make their way here, leaving behind larger coastal metros for the Central Valley. Imagine what it would mean to our local economy if thousands of highly paid technology workers moved to Bakersfield? We must continue to push for quality-of-life amenities that matter to highly educated professionals — including improved air quality, outdoor amenities, arts and culture — and project the narrative that Bakersfield is a great place to call home. Loving where you live will be the most powerful economic development tool in the years to come.