Houstonians are punching back in, a new report finds. Photo by Tom Werner/Getty Images

So much for that everybody-working-from-home thing. New data shows Houston workers have headed back to the office in greater numbers than workers in eight other major U.S. metros.

Figures from Kastle Systems, a provider of security services for buildings, indicate Houston ranks second for back-to-the-office activity, with a 37.9 percent occupancy rate as of October 21.

Meanwhile, 41.4 percent of workers in Dallas-Fort Worth were at the office as of October 21 compared with pre-pandemic levels. By comparison, Kastle Systems' 10-metro average was 27.4 percent. Kastle says this data makes Dallas-Fort Worth the "most open" place among the 10 metros.

To assess office occupancy habits since pandemic lockdowns went into effect, Kastle Systems has been examining keycard, fob, and app data from 3,600 buildings and 41,000 businesses in 138 cities. Its weekly back-to-the-office barometer reflects access activity in Houston and nine other major metros:

  • Dallas
  • Austin
  • New York City
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Philadelphia
  • Washington, D.C.
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose, California

Elsewhere, Austin shows up at No. 5, with a 35.1 percent occupancy rate.

In last place among the 10 metros is New York City, where the occupancy rate was 17.4 percent.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

In a guest column, Jan E. Odegard of The Ion Houston, discusses the ways COVID-19 has affected the workforce permanently. Getty Images

Houston innovation expert on life after COVID-19: 'we may never work and learn the same again'

Guest column

When the Houston-area was faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and instituting a shelter-in-place to keep residents safe, The Ion's mission to build a world-leading innovation hub didn't change, but the way we advocate and engage with learners has.

At a programmatic level, we're bringing our networking events to a virtual platform, convening our high school STEAM Innovation Challenge program via online meetings, and moving the Ion Smart and Resilient City Accelerator, which incubates technology to support the City, coursework, counseling, and mentoring online.

At a philosophical level, we're exploring and evaluating how current sociological and economic conditions will change and drive the way we'll provide programming and resources. We're not entirely sure what changes we'll institute, what programming we'll need to tweak, since this is a global "experiment" that has not yet played out, but ideas, technology, and offerings are being explored and developed. It's in the Ion's name to keep the ever-forward motion of discovery.

As senior director of Academic Programming, my job will be to implement those ideas and move new programs forward. To do this, the team is developing and pivoting programs we had on the drawing board and are engaging in conversations with academic stakeholders, workforce development programs and executives with innovation-driven hiring needs.

Through the course of the conversations and self-observations, one thing is very clear: we may never work and learn the same again. This is why.

The digital transformation has accelerated exponentially

Universities moved thousands of courses online in a matter of a week, if not a few days. In an era where consumers can order goods or purchase a book with the tap of a button, this may not seem to be a big deal, but for campus centric academic institutions and employers, it is.

To put the technological infrastructure in place and equip students and employees with the tools necessary is momentous. While many organizations were well equipped, some never needed to, and others just had a handful of offerings online, they are now 100 percent online. This rocks the core of their operation and many of the lessons learned during COVID-19 will transcend past COVID-19 and transform these institutions.

What we do not know yet is what the impact of this will be on the student, delivering education and training material online is only half the problem, how students access and learn remains to be seen.

Soft skills matter

Soft skills, or interpersonal (people) skills, are not only harder to define but to evaluate and build, especially from home. Soft skills include communication skills, listening skills, and empathy. When you're alone with three screens up, you're inherently more distracted and maybe more concerned with what's going on there than with the outside world. Working from home not only requires discipline, but also requires you create boundaries.

While Slack channels, video meetings, and online mentorship are critical avenues during a time like this, we must make an extra effort to feel the dynamics of a mentor, mentee or teammate, and to ask the right questions. Probing deeper where needed and recognizing when backing off is the better path forward.

As we look at performance and work habits, changing or tweaking online behavior is different from modifying in person behavior. Critical thinking skills and clear communication and expectations are imperative (most of us have sent what we thought was the "perfect" email, that was not only misunderstood but misinterpreted), as is not losing sight of the person. Refining soft skills can do this, and now we need to do that online.

While developing and practicing soft skills one-on-one or in small groups can be done, the question is how to scale this to larger groups and courses. One way we're seeing this done more successfully is in the format of flipped classrooms. While instruction is often based on completing assigned reading before live class lecture; online recording gives new opportunities. Instead, the time allotted for live lectures, students will watch pre-recorded lectures followed by instructor supported small group Q&A and problem-working sessions.

Learners of all age groups can spend time problem solving or presenting an assignment rather than the material itself (practice and teach what you learned). This format not only offers opportunities for more personalized engagement, but also opens opportunities for more senior students to participate and practice leadership and mentorship by supporting these sessions.

The death of the 9-to-5 work schedule

It's very clear. We're all scrambling. Scrambling to get fresh air when there aren't too many people out. Scrambling to procure food. And for many, scrambling to watch our kids, manage their education, and get our job done.

Work is shifted to the early morning or bleeding into the evening. Without the confinement of going into the office and leaving at a certain time, personal bookends are further moved. In some countries it's frowned upon to send emails outside of work hours — in the U.S. it is a lifeblood.

COVID-19 forced us to work from a home model, and corporations and employees are now co-creating rules of meaningful engagement for accountability and developing the right framework for success and trust to get the job done. Daily video/call check-ins with staff members, as many are doing right now, is suddenly not abnormal (or intrusive) but now an integral part of working together and, helps create a shared purpose. While the job might just be done after the kids fall asleep, or that afternoon stroll, these calls ensure we are connected.

At the Ion, these daily check-ins are not just about what work you did and will be doing, but about building and supporting the individual, the team, and a shared purpose. The lessons learned from COVID-19 will make corporations and organizations more open to working from home moving forward, because we learned how to do it, and lessons learned will survive COVID-19.

Physical connections will be back

I am an introvert that must act as an extravert to do my job. Well, after 4 weeks working from home, I do miss the social engagement offered by the office.

While I can work with the team, and schedule virtual coffee and cocktail hours, it is not conducive to impromptu water-cooler talk. So, while I believe we now have the skills and methods to work from home, we have reinforced the importance of a physical space to convene.

There has been a long discussion about roles of traditional, work and school campuses, and whether or not it is outdated. I disagree, and if there is one thing that stands out it is that physical campuses serve a critical role, even if we tweak how learning will be delivered and work will be performed. Going back to a collaborative setting such as an office, lab or classroom will give us an opportunity to see, create, and build to scale. Physical connection is also imperative for building the soft skills we mention.

Engaging in a conversation on a video call from your bedroom isn't the same or as meaningful as reacting to a question or conflict in-person. If you are a student in an aeronautical engineering course you can simulate something until the wrong button is pushed. But you need to see and feel it "blow up" to react and internalize. Online reaction is still different than in-person reaction.

Holistically, it's also imperative for our health. Loneliness, which can be brought on by the isolation we're experiencing, is associated with physical isolation. Together, in a workplace setting we're sharper mentally, and simply better together.

As a career academic, now in my second act, and deeply embedded in operations and strategic partnerships, these observations give me great excitement. With a city keen on innovation, and partners willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with learners and entrepreneurs, I know Houston will play a part in changing how we learn. I hope the next time you're reading something from me it's about just that.

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Jan E. Odegard is the senior director of Academic and Industry Partnerships at The Ion.

According to a report, robotics could substitute for 46.3 percent of tasks usually completed by workers in Houston. Photo by vm/Getty Images

Study finds that almost half of Houston's workforce tasks could be done by robots

digital dangers

While fears of robots taking the jobs of American workers has been perforating throughout the United States, a news study found just how much of the workforce's responsibilities could be automized.

Almost half of Houston's workplace tasks are susceptible to automation, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. Of 100 metros analyzed, Houston ranks 31st among the country's 100 biggest metros, with 46.3 percent of work tasks susceptible to automation.

Authors of the study are quick to point out that this doesn't mean human workers will be entirely replaced by robots. Rather, they say, it means at least some of the humans' tasks could be automated.

"While this report concludes that the future may not be as dystopian as the most dire voices claim, plenty of people and places will be affected by automation, and much will need to be done to mitigate the coming disruptions," the authors write.

Across the country, jobs that could encounter the most interference from automation include food preparation worker, payroll clerk, and commuter network support specialist, according to the report.

"Machines substitute for tasks, not jobs. A job is a collection of tasks," the report says. "Some of those tasks are best done by humans, others by machines. Even under the most aggressive scenarios of technological advancement, it is unlikely that machines will be able to substitute for all tasks in any one occupation."

Elsewhere in Texas:

  • Dallas ranks 29th among the country's 100 biggest metros, with 46.5 percent of work tasks susceptible to automation.
  • San Antonio ranks 41st among the country's 100 biggest metros, with 46 percent of work tasks susceptible to automation.
  • Austin ranks 78th among the country's 100 biggest metros, with 44.3 percent of work tasks susceptible to automation.

According to CityLab, the Brookings report shows places where energy jobs are prevalent, such as Houston, will get through the automation period "relatively unscathed," as will college towns and state capitals like Austin. Authors of the report maintain that automation complements human labor.

"Generally, whatever workplace activity isn't taken over by automation is complemented by it — making each remaining human task more valuable. This makes labor more valuable, and the increased productivity generally … translates into higher wages," the report says.

The report indicates that among the 100 largest U.S. metros, Toledo, Ohio, confronts the most potential automation in the workplace (49 percent share of job tasks), while Washington, D.C., faces the least potential automation (39.8 percent share of job tasks).

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This story originally ran on CultureMap.

New study shows Houston has more job openings than any other Texas city. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Houston becomes job capital of Texas with highest number of openings in the state

Get to work

As all good Houstonians know, the Bayou City reigns as the energy capital of the world. But, as it turns out, Houston also ranks as the job capital of Texas.

In October, a daily average of 4,188 job openings were listed in Houston — more than any other place in Texas. That's according to a review by data-mining company Thinkum of online job postings at thousands of companies.

In terms of the sheer number of daily job postings, Houston ranked fifth among U.S. cities in October, according to Thinkum. Seattle held the No. 1 spot (10,291 average daily job listings).

Thinkum's top 20 also included Austin (No. 6), with a daily average of 3,227 job postings, and Dallas (No. 12), with 2,685.

The abundance of job listings in Houston can be attributed, in part, to its status as one of the top U.S. metro areas for corporate relocations and expansions, as ranked by Site Selection magazine. In 2017, the Houston welcomed 196 new and expanded corporate facilities.

"Houston is the most diverse city in the U.S. and companies thrive in our region. We are powered by a highly skilled and well-trained talent base that enjoys an excellent quality of life," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, said in March.

Career website LinkedIn says hiring in the Houston metro area climbed 14.3 percent in September 2018 compared with September 2017. On a seasonally adjusted basis (removing predictable variations for seasonal hiring), hiring went up 0.8 percent from August to September, according to LinkedIn.

That's good news for the Houston area, as the unemployment rate in September was 4.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 3.4 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth and 2.9 percent in Austin.

A February report from Taylor Smith Consulting noted that the Houston economy had been in recovery mode after the collapse in oil prices and in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. However, one expert says Houston has now mostly bounced back from the economic slump.

Helping fuel Houston's economic recovery are initiatives like Houston Exponential, a new nonprofit designed to accelerate startup growth and, as a result, job growth. Formation of Houston Exponential was announced in October.

"The world calls Houston a knowledge capital because of the incredible concentration of ideas and innovation in our great city," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in October. "Technology innovation and a vibrant startup community are key drivers to Houston's present as well as our future. Through [Houston Exponential], we will create new, high-paying jobs, grow our startup and technology community, make accessing entrepreneurship capital available to all of our citizens, improve our quality of life, and lead this culture of innovation that inspires each and every one of us."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Houston is poised to lead 5G growth in Texas, according to a new report

leading the stream

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

Houston lands on list of nation's top spots for millennials on the move

migration destination

The Bayou City is shining as an attractive destination for young people on the move.

According to the fifth-annual study from SmartAsset, millennials are fleeing cities like Los Angeles and Chicago and migrating to other areas in search of work and a better quality of life, with Houston landing as the No. 18 spot for young professionals age 25 to 39.

In order to compile the list, SmartAsset dug into U.S. Census Bureau data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 180 specific cities. According to the findings, 18,035 millennials moved in to Houston in 2019, while 15,838 moved out. That makes a net migration of 2,197, per the study.

When it comes to migrating millennials, the Lone Star State is tops, landing at No. 1 for states where millennials are moving, with more than 187,000 young people heading to Texas in the pre-pandemic year. Though some 154,000 millennials left Texas during the same time period, this results in a net gain of more than 33,000 millennial residents, the biggest net gain for the group in the country, giving Texas the lead in millennial migration for the second year in a row.

In news that is hardly shocking, Austin landing as the No. 4 hot spot overall.

While Austin ranks as the top Texas city where millennials are moving, one other Texas spot landed in the top 10, the Dallas suburb of Frisco (No. 6), with a net migration of 3,516 out-of-state millennials in 2019.

Dallas just missed the top 10, landing at No. 11 on the list, with a net millennial migration of 2,525 in 2019. San Antonio (No. 22) showed a net migration of 1,865 millennials.

The top city overall for millennial migration in 2019 was Denver, followed by Seattle.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.