Thursday, August 27, 2020 / by Ken Couture
When he’s not home in California, a typical workday for Jonathan Taylor includes sitting poolside on the Las Vegas Strip.
Every other week or so, Taylor books a midweek stay at a hotel-casino. It’s a nice setup: His day usually starts with a morning swim at a resort pool before he heads back to his room to get started on work.
Lunch is typically brought in via room service, and a few hours of the day are spent in a cabana with his laptop.
Once he wraps up work, Taylor explores the city: wandering Downtown Summerlin, grabbing a bite to eat at a restaurant or hiking in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
“I’m a big advocate of the cabana office,” he said. “I’m more distracted at home, because I’m thinking of things to do — versus everything’s taken care of when I’m in Las Vegas.”
Remote work has become a part of most working Americans’ lives since the onset of the pandemic, and it is expected to have a larger presence in the country’s workforce after the health crisis ends.
Experts say that could be a major boon to Las Vegas. In the short term, remote work vacations could help boost resorts’ midweek occupancy levels. In the long run, it could make it easier for the state to attract new, remote working residents who can help diversify the state’s economy.
“We think this is a great growth opportunity,” said Jonas Peterson, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, a public-private partnership working to develop Southern Nevada’s economy. “If you’re going to telework, why wouldn’t you want to telework from Las Vegas?”
Short-term boost: Remote working vacations
Las Vegas tourism-related companies have tried to lure more visitors amid the pandemic through remote work promotions.
The idea is to get workers to book a midweek stay at a Las Vegas resort, where they can prepare PowerPoints by a pool or play craps after conference calls.
MGM Resorts International’s “Viva Las Office” package lets guests work remotely from the Bellagio or Aria and includes an “executive assistant” who helps coordinate reservations and experiences, as well as discounts on activities such as helicopter and Jeep tours.
In July, Las Vegas-based airline Allegiant said it would launch a similar program with existing resort partners in which people can fly to Las Vegas, telecommute in their normal workday from a resort and then enjoy the property’s amenities.
“There’s a certain demographic that has the financial means and the flexibility to do something like that,” said Barbara Larson, an executive professor at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. “If you can do it, why not?”
It’s an innovative way to fill midweek rooms, which have faced low occupancy rates due to a lack of trade shows, conventions and group business.
According to data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Las Vegas midweek occupancy levels stood at 37 percent in June, compared with 90 percent the year before.
Traveling remote workers like Taylor could help boost those numbers. Taylor, the vice president of business development for software company Photon Commerce, said he feels a “sense of normalcy” in Las Vegas that he can’t find in California, which has yet to open most bars, indoor dining options, movie theaters and other venues.
Las Vegas a ‘really good’ remote work market
Remote work had been picking up steam over the past few years. In 2012, Gallup found 39 percent of employees worked remotely in some capacity. In 2016, that number had grown to 43 percent.
When the pandemic hit, that growth accelerated. According to a May report from Gallup, 62 percent of U.S. employees were working from home.
More than half of those workers said they would prefer to continue working remotely as much as possible, once restrictions on school and business closures are lifted.
Employers are getting on board as well. Remote working could allow businesses to lower a position’s salary if an employee works from a city with a lower cost of living and save the company expenses on real estate or rent.
A June PwC report found 30 percent of executives expect less need for office space because of more remote work.
“Companies are very quickly rethinking their views of remote work,” Larson said. “You can actually get greater productivity by allowing somebody to work where they want to.”
She added that jobs that don’t require a lot of supervision or coordination with coworkers are the ideal careers for remote work.
The LVGEA sees potential for the state in this workplace shift.
The organization is getting ready to roll out a new campaign called “Vegas If You Can,” which will promote the city as an ideal location for teleworkers.
Peterson said Las Vegas’ entertainment amenities, low cost of living and accessible transportation are just a few benefits the city can offer remote workers.
“It’s a new strategy for us that’s come out of the pandemic,” he said. “As you look at how we’re structured and just the overall cost and quality you’re able to have, it’s a really good market for remote work.”
The campaign is expected to roll out this fall and into early 2021 and would focus on persuading remote workers and businesses that employ remote workers to relocate themselves or their staff to Las Vegas.
Peterson said markets in California — especially in the technology industry — are potential targets, but the campaign isn’t limited to one industry or geographic area.
“We want to attract workers and great jobs that have that teleworking ability … and provide opportunity for Southern Nevadans that are willing to telework,” Peterson said. “We’re trying to do background research to figure out what other industries, types of companies really benefit in the long term from remote work and would be open to moving their company — or a significant portion of their workforce — to Las Vegas.”
Long-term boost: diversified workforce
Workers like John Belding have already jumped on the bandwagon.
In 2017, Belding quit his job in California and moved to Las Vegas with the intention of finding a job that would allow him to work remotely. The avid poker player said he was drawn to Las Vegas’ casinos, sports community and low cost of living.
“I was coming to Las Vegas so often, every time I’d (get ready to) go back to San Francisco it was like, why am I leaving?” he said. “I can do any job from Vegas with just as much focus and output (through remote work).”
He eventually landed a job with a New York-based blockchain company, and he considers moving to Las Vegas the best decision of his life.
“I love Nevada, and I’m passionate about Las Vegas,” he said.
If successful, workforce relocations could help the Southern Nevada’s long-standing efforts to diversify its economy.
The state was reminded how harmful its reliance on hospitality and tourism can be during the casino shutdowns, when more than 30 percent of its workforce was unemployed.
If more Southern Nevada residents worked remotely for a diverse set of industries based in other states, economic downturns and mass layoffs that afflict those in the hospitality industry would affect a smaller percentage of the population.
But remote working doesn’t necessarily mean all workers will be free to pack their bags and move to Las Vegas on a whim.
Tammy Allen, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of South Florida who studies remote working, said research shows most people prefer a hybrid approach to remote working, where they spend some time in the office.
“People miss face-to-face contact. They want to interact, but they also want to work from home and save time involved with commuting every day,” she said.
Economist John Restrepo of RCG Economics said he’s unsure how much of an impact remote work will have on Las Vegas’ economy in the long run.
He believes remote work could lead to relocations to Southern Nevada, but said it’s hard to predict what sort of effect this will have on the state’s economic diversification efforts. Much of that will rely on how many companies allow their employees to work 100 percent remotely and how many workers choose Southern Nevada as their home.
He added that Las Vegas will be competing to attract high-skilled remote workers with a number of other cities.
“Everything’s so speculative right now,” Restrepo said. “(But) what this COVID virus has taught us is that this is an event that will change economic structures and economic relationships, so everything’s on the table.”
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