A growing number of independent professionals call Houston home. Photo via Pixlr

Visitors to Memorial Park on an early weekday afternoon probably have to stop and wonder where all these people are coming from. Don’t they have work to do?

Maybe they do, but on their own schedules. Fiverr, a marketplace for connecting freelancers and new clients, released its fifth annual Freelance Economic Impact Report, ranking Houston as the tenth fastest-growing city for freelancers.

According to the report, some 144,000 workers in Houston made $6.6 billion. That means the Bayou City led Texas with around $46,000 for per capita income.

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin came in as the fourth fastest-growing city for freelancers. The city's 77,262-person independent workforce earned $3.4 billion in 2021. In Dallas, which came in at No. 8, some 177, 500 workers made $7.6 billion.

Joining Houston, Austin, and Dallas in the top 10 were:

1. Orlando, Florida
2. Nashville, Tennessee
3. Miami, Florida
5. Tampa, Florida
6. Las Vegas, Nevada
7. Charlotte, North Carolina
9. Portland, Oregon

Although on the surface the report focuses on geography, it collected data that shows eight out of 10 freelancers believe they can live anywhere and work anytime. However, fewer than half reported that it was “a primary factor” in becoming freelancers, and a third said that work was “a primary influence” in their choice of location.

Most important, 70 percent of respondents said they were “highly satisfied” with working independently.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Looking back at months working from home, what did employees miss most from the workplace? Graphic via UH.edu

What do workers miss most about the office? University of Houston explains

houston voices

The commute, the water cooler talks, the in-person meetings. Have we missed these things? Or can the research enterprise, for the most part, stay virtual?

“Many people who have been working from home are experiencing a void they can’t quite name,” said Jerry Useem in The Atlantic. Maybe getting back to our old routine will do us good.

Tracy Brower in Forbes wrote, “Many of the reports of increased productivity were early in the pandemic. Some have dubbed this ‘panic productivity,’ attributing the early perception of increased productivity to the adrenaline boost people got from the sudden shifts in the nature and location of their work. Job loss was rife, and people may have been working like crazy in the hopes of staying visible, relevant and ensuring their boss thought they were still adding value even from home. But in the words of W. B. Yeats: “Things fall apart.”

Studies are showing now that we’ve hit our breaking point a year and a half into the work-from-home onset. What do we miss the most?

The commute

It can’t be the commute. Or can it? The work-from-home boom will lift productivity in the U.S. economy by five percent, mostly because of savings in commuting time, said Enda Curren in Bloomberg.

But Useem wrote specifically about commuting, and what he found was incredible: in 1994, an Italian physicist named Cesare Marchetti noted that throughout history, humans have shown a willingness to spend roughly 60 minutes a day in transit. This explains why ancient cities such as Rome never exceeded about three miles in diameter. The steam train, streetcar, subway and automobile expanded that distance. But transit times stayed the same. The one-way average for an American commute stands at about 27 minutes.” What are these 27 minutes, on average, good for?

There are people who love to drive — it gives them a sense of control regarding their day. On your morning commute, especially if you take mass transit, you can clear your head, decompress, make errand-esque phone calls or listen to audiobooks and podcasts. That’s not all we miss, though.

The office

Michael Scott on the television show, “The Office,” said he makes “20 little trips to the cooler” and recounts the “20 little scans I do of everybody to make sure everything’s running smoothly, and the 20 little conversations I have with Stanley.”

We may take considerably fewer coffee or water breaks than they are used to at the fictional Dunder Mifflin, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t healthy to stand up, stretch and make small talk with a co-worker for a short spell.

According to SparkHire.com, fostering a sense of office camaraderie helps teams to perform better, improves their ability to work as a team and boosts employee retention rates. And university environments are meant to be experienced in person. The public art on campus, the leaves in the fall, all of the sensory cues that remind us we are in a collegiate atmosphere matter.

The doppleganger

Next, lets introduce the concept of the double self: the work self and the home self. One needs to transition to the other.

Jon Jachimowicz of Harvard Business School was quoted in the Atlantic as saying: “If you respond like a manager at home, you might be sleeping on the couch that night. And if you respond like a parent at work, its weird.”

So, it behooves us to make a real, tangible transition from home life to work life. If your institution has not opened back up yet, you can do this by dressing like you would at work. It will make doing chores around the house less tempting if you’re dressed for your actual job. There are other things you can say to yourself or rituals you can perform to get ready for working from home.

These are readily supplied as you actually get back to the office or the lab. Showering, coffee stops, small talk in the elevator all signal that our day is really beginning.

The thank you note

Some researchers were deemed essential workers and never worked from home, and even started shifts that were different from their older routines. Much research work needed to occur in actual lab spaces. If this applies to you, then consider this a thank you card from your colleagues who want you to know that while some of us were zooming and plugging away on computers at our kitchen tables, we acknowledge the struggle it was for you to cover every shift, every day.

For instance, David Brammer, D. V. M. , DACLAM, of University of Houston Animal Care Operations said of his staff: “Excellence is difficult to define but unmistakable when observed. Within Animal Care Operations, I have found excellence. He went on to say that his staff encountered a variety of challenges, all while maintaining the highest standard for animal care. “By adjusting to the new normal rather than abandoning standards, focusing on the completion of tasks, working hard and staying positive, the staff of ACO successfully set an example for others to follow.”

One last thought

It definitely comes down to what your institution’s leadership has decided about back-to-work schedules, whether they be full time on-campus, at-home or hybrid. There’s something to be said for being able to adapt when in a pinch. It doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that things can’t transition back to the way they once were. Versatility, remember, is an indispensable trait.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

Gotta love that WFH life. Photo by Maskot/Getty

Houston plugs in as hot spot in ranking of best cities for remote workers

workin' it

If you're a remote worker living in Houston, you might just want to stay put. A new ranking puts Houston high on the list of the best cities in the U.S. for remote workers.

The Bayou City comes in at No. 11 overall in LawnStarter's new ranking for remote-work ranking.

For its list, Austin-based outdoor services provider LawnStarter examined data for 194 of the biggest U.S. cities covering 20 factors, including remote job opportunities, internet connectivity, cost of living, and availability of personal workspace.

Elsewhere in Texas, Frisco tops the list of the best cities in the U.S. for remote workers, followed by Dallas (No. 3), Arlington (No. 4), Austin (No. 6), and Plano (No. 8).

Here are LawnStarter's 20 best cities for remote workers:

  1. Frisco
  2. Naperville, Illinois
  3. Dallas
  4. Arlington
  5. Atlanta
  6. Austin
  7. Tampa, Florida
  8. Plano
  9. Raleigh, North Carolina
  10. Cincinnati
  11. Houston
  12. Nashville
  13. Cary, North Carolina
  14. Chicago
  15. Denver
  16. Salt Lake City
  17. Charlotte, North Carolina
  18. San Antonio
  19. Arlington, Virginia
  20. Seattle

Jeff Herman, editor in chief at LawnStarter, tells CultureMap that overall, the Texas' lack of an income tax and solid quality of life boosted all of the states' cities in the top 20, he says.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Some 49 percent of Houston workers are burned out at work. Getty Images

Nearly half of Houston workers complain of serious burnout, says new report

working hard

Local workers who're especially dreading that commute or cracking open the laptop in the morning aren't alone. A new study reveals that nearly half of Houston laborers are more burned out on the job.

Some 49 percent of Bayou City residents report to be burned out at work, according to employment industry website Robert Half. That's significantly higher than last year, when only 37 percent reported burnout in a similar poll.

Meanwhile, more than one in four Houston workers (28 percent) say that they will not unplug from work when taking time off this summer.

Not surprisingly, American workers are ready for a vacation. Per a press release, the research also reveals:

  • One in four workers lost or gave up paid time off in 2020
  • One in three plans to take more than three weeks of vacation time this year

Elsewhere in Texas, the burnout is real. In Dallas, 50 percent of workers report serious burnout. More than a quarter — 26 percent — of Dallasites fear they won't disconnect from the office during summer vacation.

In fun-filled Austin, 45 percent of the workforce complain of burnout. Some 32 percent of Austinites feel they can unplug from work during the summer.

Fortunately for us, the most burned-out city in the U.S. isn't in the Lone Star State. That dubious title goes to the poor city of Charlotte, North Carolina, where 55 percent of laborers are truly worn out.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Edward Henigin, CTO of Data Foundry, sums up what he thinks the future of work from home will look like. Photo by Maskot/Getty

Texas expert: What does the future of remote work look like?

guest column

Since the start of the pandemic, the idea that this event will change the way we live and work now and, in the future, has been a on the minds of everyone.

It's true that remote work has become a mainstay of day-to-day operations, and now the traditional offices are looking more and more like the office environment of the past. In a recent survey published in July 2020, it revealed that before the pandemic, only 17 percent of responding U.S. employees worked from home at a rate of five days or more per week. At the time, this survey was conducted in April, however, that share had increased to 44 percent. Even as pandemic response developed, a Gallup poll from October revealed that 33 percent of U.S. workers were still working remotely.

So, the question remains: What will the future of remote work look like for enterprises?

Changes we've seen so far

Businesses have already been finding their footing with the assistance of an array of platforms and solutions, all of which have helped them pivot quickly and successfully through the use of more digital means. Right now, we see that cloud-based collaborative applications like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom (which had its daily user numbers more than quadruple by April 2020) have become the backbone of many new workplace IT strategies, offering an ability to bridge the distance and ensure seamless cooperation.

Meanwhile, to keep a growing number of endpoints and devices secure as employees use home networks and personal computers to log onto work environments, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have become key. Studies show that VPN usage increased by 124 percent in the U.S. between March 8 and March 22, 2020. This can be attributed to the technology's ability to help businesses ensure protected file sharing, data encryption, secure remote access, and more. These are all crucial elements for keeping the expanding footprint of the enterprise network safe.

Finding a balance

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing remote work transitions. Some businesses will require more on-site work while others may make a more comprehensive transition away from central office locations. As we move forward, it's likely that we'll see many organizations settle somewhere in the middle with a hybrid strategy that allows distanced operations where feasible and on-site work where needed.

Overall, it's clear that across these many different applications and use cases, the importance of digital infrastructure has increased. Regardless of what platforms or services are in use, the network and other foundational IT infrastructure have become central to success as businesses expand their bandwidth needs, incorporate data-centric solutions, and depend on reliable, speedy communications. It will be crucial moving forward that businesses not only adapt to the challenges they currently face, but plan for a flexible long-term work strategy.

Understanding how the company will need to function and what services it will need to achieve success in any given strategy will be paramount, and after an individualized vision is developed, technology action plans will need to start rolling out. For some this may mean adjusting IT equipment environments (like moving on-premises data center assets to outsourced facilities), for others this may mean expanding their networks or implementing new cloud-based connectivity.

All in all, agility and flexibility are at the core of the reimagined enterprise, and planning is the enabler of both these business virtues. Now is the time to look forward, not only for the sake of preparation, but for the sake of keeping our eyes on a brighter, stronger, and more dynamic future.

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Edward Henigin is CTO at Austin-based Data Foundry, which has a growing data center location in Northwest Houston.

Employees prefer the kitchen table to the boardroom. Photo by Maskot/Getty

Here's how much salary Texans would willingly forfeit to continue working from home

WORK PERKS

For some, working from home is starting to look like the new normal. But whether your office is gearing up for reopening or you're looking at taking calls from your couch for the foreseeable future, one thing is for sure: Texans love that WFH life.

Finance website RealBusinessSavings.com recently surveyed 3,500 American employees to evaluate their attitudes about offices in the current circumstances, and the results showed an overwhelming preference for our makeshift home desks.

The average American employee would take a $316 pay cut per month in order to continue working from home after lockdown, with Texans specifically willing to give up $278 each month to avoid going back to their place of work.

Nationally, 57 percent of employees say they will request to continue working from home to avoid contracting coronavirus in the workplace. One in 10 are happy to be far away from office politics, and two in three say they have been more productive working from home.

When it comes to reasons people prefer to continue working from home, 30 percent of employees say saving money on transportation is the best thing, followed by no daily commute (28 percent). An additional 22 percent say the best part is saving money on lunch and afterwork drinks, while 8 percent said their favorite part is not having to wear business attire (hooray for yoga pants!).

Broken down across the country, it appears Californians are most keen on keeping their WFH routines after lockdown, as the average employee there would forfeit $495 of their salary in order to continue to do so. Comparatively, Hawaii employees are ready to go back to the office, with the average respondent there forfeiting only $71 of their salary each month in order to continue working from home.

And if we ever do return en masse to the boardroom, it seems the days of high-fives and handshakes with your coworkers are over. Results say that 75 percent of employees do not think handshakes will ever return to the work environment, and in their place should be the elbow tap (65 percent), a simple nod (28 percent), the balance-testing foot tap (5 percent), and the formal bow (a mere 2 percent).

Perhaps most telling is this result: One in three workers say that since WFH began, they have felt their bosses have been friendlier and with a more relaxed attitude toward employees. Long live the Zoom meetings.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.