Techlandia Issue 5- 2021/2022 - Page 65

Remote Control

Given the flexibility, workers are choosing to work from home in Oregon

At any given moment these days, Tiffany Stevenson can be found sitting outside a cafe on North Mississippi Avenue or another bustling Portland street, hooked up to a WiFi connection and holding court.

An executive assistant at Salesforce, Stevenson lived in Seattle a year and a half ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit.   

“I knew when we were sent home in March 2020 that remote work and working from home was not going to be good for me,” Stevenson said. “I’m super extroverted and social, so I was very concerned.” She tried to make the best of it for a few months. But a close friend who lived in Portland began nudging her: The Rose City has a robust culture for remote workers, and it might be a better fit for her personality.

“She said, ‘Come be part of our Covid pod and Portland community,’” Stevenson recalled. “So I hedged my bets and figured that we were going to be able to work from anywhere, and I moved.”

Stevenson and her friend were both right. Salesforce announced in February that almost all employees would have the option to work from almost anywhere they wished moving forward. Stevenson found Portland a refreshing change of pace, with abundant outdoor dining options and an eclectic mix of fellow remote workers.

Even before the pandemic, Portland had the fourth-highest rate of remote workers of any major metro area in the country, according to U.S. Census data. But the pandemic has sharply accelerated the trend, as Portland and Oregon as a whole have drawn hundreds of newly remote workers from Seattle, the Bay Area, and elsewhere.

As Brieanne Runsten’s daughter grew, she and her husband started considering a future outside San Francisco, where they had both worked since 2014. But when Runsten, who has worked for over a decade in business development for financial services firms, interviewed with the global corporate services company ZEDRA last fall, she wasn’t sure how the company would take the news that they were leaving the Bay Area.

“I said, ‘I’m planning to move to Portland. How will that affect this role?’” Runsten recalled. “Pre-Covid, the response would have been, ‘We want you in the Bay Area.’ Now, as long as people can make regular business trips when travel opens up, many employers are adjusting to a greater degree of flexibility.”

Now she combines remote working in Portland with in-person meetings throughout the West Coast. Runsten said she and her husband have found it easy to integrate into the city’s remote worker community.

“The tech community in Portland has been very welcoming. Everyone has offered to make introductions and has just been very helpful,” she said. “We have no regrets. It’s been a good move for us personally, just having our jobs be flexible, which for my role wouldn’t have happened if not for Covid.”

That flexibility underscores the silver lining of an unprecedented and challenging 18 months. Many tech workers have discovered the freedom to work not only when they want but where they want. Employers vying for talent are starting to rethink the conventional idea of office work in response.

The desire for flexibility and space isn’t just driving remote workers to Portland. Bend has built a reputation as a national hub for remote work over the past decade. And the newly mobile remote workforce is also honing in on smaller cities like Eugene, where they can trade in a metropolis for the best of both worlds: a burgeoning cluster of startups and tech talent and a 15-minute drive from the heart of downtown to lush forests and wilderness areas.

Morgan Mann was able to trade Chicago for Eugene in May 2020, thanks to the flexibility of his job as Chief Operating Officer of the Security Business Group at Cisco.

Mann used to commute frequently from Chicago to Cisco’s headquarters in San Jose. But Covid has made those trips far less frequent. Now in Eugene, he enjoys a much shorter flight when he does have to travel. When he doesn’t, he and his family spend as much time as they can enjoying the natural beauty of the southern Willamette Valley.