In this Utah mountain town, a higher percentage of residents are working remotely than in most cities nationwide, according to a new analysis.
And Heidi Franco, the mayor of Heber City, said she didn’t find it all that surprising — she herself worked remotely for 13 years, in her full-time role as a professor at Western Governors University.
With 14.5% of its active residents doing their jobs online, Heber ranks seventh in the nation, according to a new study by software company SysAid, which looked at census data.
It was the only city in Utah to make the top 10; Provo-Orem, St. George and Salt Lake City were in the top 100, out of 938 micro and metropolitan areas in the United States
Scott Phillips, a member of the Heber City Council, has also worked remotely for years, while also working from his offices in Salt Lake City and Park City. He had been aware of the high rates of residents working from home for several years, he said, but now the secret is out, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s such a great place to live, but I don’t want everyone to know that,” he said with a laugh, citing recreational opportunities as the main draw.
Heber, with a 2021 population of 17,290, is a popular resort area and the county seat of Wasatch County. Given the city’s current size, remote jobs are essential, Phillips said, because “we certainly don’t have the industry or the jobs in Heber to support our people.”
The city has been recognized as “the fifth fastest growing community in the country,” Franco said, referring to a recent analysis of Postal Service data. She noted that all public services have had to adapt to the increase in population.
“I never want to go back”
SysAid, which provides computer support software, analyzed data over 5-year periods, from 2013 to 2020, from the American Community Survey, which is conducted by the Federal Census Bureau.
Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, topped the latest list of cities and towns, with 17.7% of employees working remotely. Washington DC was the region with the highest proportion of remote workers overall, followed by the states of Colorado and Oregon.
More recent data shows that Utah saw an increase in the number of people entering working age from 2020 to 2021, The Washington Post reported in August. Most counties in the state saw a significant increase that year as people moved to more rural parts of the country during the pandemic, according to an analysis of census data by the Economic Innovation Group released. in July.
Most of these workers were white; Davis, Salt Lake and Emery were the only counties to see a significant increase in the number of working-age Hispanic people, the analysis found.
Daley Elias is the type of virtual employee who helped Salt Lake City rank among the top 100 cities in the SysAid study. A few months ago, she started going to WeWork in Salt Lake City to maintain greater work-life separation.
She had been completely isolated even before the pandemic; she works in sales at 42Chat, a Draper company that makes text-based chatbots for events and communities.
“We’ve always been a virtual business,” Elias said, adding, “I find that I never want to go back to an office again.”
For her, the ability to travel wherever she wants is a major selling point of remote work. She plans to move to a new location and can live in any US time zone.
Virtual or hybrid remains popular in Utah
WeWork, which rents workspace to remote workers, has two locations in Salt Lake City and two in Lehi.
“We’ve seen a national push back to work, and Salt Lake is no exception,” Robin Cardoso, company vice president for the region, said in a statement. “We are seeing increased adoption of the hybrid workspace in Salt Lake.”
Demand in Salt Lake City for WeWork’s “All Access” — a flat-rate monthly subscription — rose 31% from January to July this year, Cardoso said. The number of members using its “on-demand” pay-as-you-go option increased by 47% over the same period, she said.
Although people have returned to the office in greater numbers, “at the same time, individuals are demanding flexibility and for many, hybrid working is the new norm,” Cardoso said.
Some Utah companies remain mostly remote, including Provo-based online survey company Qualtrics.
“Before the pandemic, Qualtrics was working at about 95% in the office, then went to 100% [work from home] overnight,” said Lauren Braun, a company spokesperson.
Today, most employees are in the office one or two days a week. “We’re intentional about how much time we spend in the office, focusing on collaboration and the things we can only do in the office,” Braun said.
Anne E. Palmer, who works for Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, said she’s seen pros and cons of working remotely.
She moved to Salt Lake City in September 2020, she said, to help care for her mother. At the time, workers at the Palmer, California office building were being reassigned to different locations due to a renovation, and his position already didn’t require much face-to-face contact with co-workers before the pandemic.
She has to be on site at Stanford in March and July, she said, so she travels when necessary.
One thing that could improve remote work would be a better way to network with other remote workers in the same field or organization, Palmer said.
“I’m really interested to know how many Stanford peers there are doing research and administrative work in the state,” she said, “but I don’t know how to find them.”
Leto Sapunar is a Report for America member of the body covering corporate responsibility and sustainability for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.