Merkle's Bend employees aren’t losing their jobs, but instead being allowed to work remotely. It’s part of a growing trend of companies, all over the country and the world, allowing employees the freedom to work from wherever they are.
- Anna Jacobs – Union Culture
- Carrie Douglass expects to open her new co-working space in Deschutes Ridge, above Bend's Riverbend Park, in April.
"Estimates were just released for 2017 from the State Labor Department," said Kip Barrett, Bend area director for Economic Development for Central Oregon. "The estimate is about 12 percent of Deschutes County residents work from home."
The margin of error on the study is 2 percent, which means anywhere from 10 to 14 percent of workers in Deschutes County are remote workers—compared with the state’s 7 percent overall.
Remote workers don't always work from home though, and a lack of socialization and structure lead many to spend their time at rented offices and coffee shops. Because of this, co-working spaces have popped up around Bend in recent years, including The Wilds, BendTECH, tenthirty coworking and the 9th Street Village.
Carrie Douglass, a Bend-La Pine school board member and co-owner of Cascade Relays, is just the latest of entrepreneurs looking to give remote workers a place to work.
"I've been working from home for about six years, and loved it at first and then started to feel like my own productivity and creativity and joy was decreasing after days and hours and years sitting by myself in my home office," she explained. "I checked out all the existing co-working spaces, and just didn't find what I was looking for. So I started doing some research and found that we have an incredibly high percentage of people who work from home in Bend."
- Anna Jacobs – Union Culture
- Douglass reviews plans for her new co-working space, which will be one of several already in operation in Bend.
She added, "Like anything else, people have different priorities and look for different things."
A common misperception is that if an employee is working remotely, they’re not contributing to the local economy. Merkle could have easily closed their office and either made the employees go get new jobs or made them move—but they decided to continue to employ Bendites.
"I think it's a nuanced perception where, obviously, that's a large part of our available work force that isn't available to our local companies," EDCO’s Barrett said. "However, that is an incredibly valuable resource. I think of it as like a really strong bench where hopefully our companies grow and become companies that can attract those employees to work here locally versus companies elsewhere."
While another coworking space may seem like too much, Douglass said the owners of the different co-working spaces in Bend have been supportive. There are enough remote workers for all the spaces, and they’ve been collaborating on ideas. She explained, "I think that we are going to have a really collaborative, co-working sector in Bend—like the brewery sector."
Barrett also believes that having local companies compete with nationwide companies for employees makes everyone better, because they’re offering stronger benefits, and in the end, doing what’s best for the employee.
"A lot of the businesses in town are promoting flex schedules as a labor perk," he explained. "Part of the idea is it's a really tight labor market, so folks are starting to think about how to work with their employees a little bit better to make things work in the sense that they're keeping the employees, allowing them additional flexibility—yes, that could be a good thing."