In a bid to support their workforce and meet local climate goals, Austin officials are continuing a push for expanded remote working policies for city employees with an eye toward having most working from home by the late 2030s.

What happened

After teleworking and more flexible work options became a standard during the COVID-19 pandemic, Austin's more than 16,000 employees were told last spring that they'd be required to work from their city offices more often beginning in the fall.

With the backing of the government employee union AFSCME Local 1624 and some city leaders, many Austin staffers rallied against the new return-to-office standards. Months later, city officials laid out their intention to encourage more work-from-home opportunities across the city payroll.

That support was locked in Feb. 15, when council voted to update Austin's wide-ranging environmental and transportation plans to formally promote teleworking options—both internally and communitywide.

“The society that we live in is not equal in how it distributes labor in our communities, in our households. We all know this. So I encourage you to continue finding ways to save money by having people not make unnecessary trips," Ben Suddaby, AFSCME 1624's president and a Travis County employee, told council Feb. 15. "It is good for the climate, it is good as a large employer, when these big businesses are setting their policies, for the city to tell them, ‘These are our goals as a community,’ but also to show them."

The details

Edits to Austin's Climate Equity Plan and Strategic Mobility Plan call to:
  • Support more city staff teleworking instead of commuting.
  • Partner with major employers on telework-supportive policies.
  • Aim for half of all trips in Austin to be "made using public transit, biking, walking, carpooling, or avoided altogether" by 2030.
  • Align civic policies with a goal of having at least 85% of Austin's government workforce and 15% of all city residents working remotely by 2039.
The revisions were approved over the objection of council member Mackenzie Kelly, who said she had deep concerns about imposing set staffing percentages and limiting the discretion of city management.

City management will be required to report on Austin's teleworking progress at least twice a year going forward.

The context

Despite previous pushback, Austin rolled out new in-person work requirements at the start of 2024 with accommodations for teleworking exemptions.

Of the approximately 7,500 city employees eligible for telework, around 6,000 used that option between late January and mid-February, city staff reported.

While Austin gradually moved to bring its employees back into its offices, Travis County officials supported a higher share of telework across their departments. County commissioners have been targeting a 75% remote work share since the early days of the pandemic.

Quote of note

“When we talk about how this telework, return-to-office policy is going to impact recruitment and retention, I am one of the examples of a person who thought it was a dealbreaker and left," AFSCME 1624 Treasurer Whitney Holt, who said she departed her previous role at Austin Public Health to work in Travis County Health & Human Services, told council.