Hawaii Wants You to Work From Home During the Pandemic — on Oahu

Remote work has become the new reality for many in the U.S., but some work-from-home environments are more desirable than others. As the winter months creep in, a new opportunity to ditch the cold weather is opening up in Hawaii for remote workers eager for a change of pace — and the flight is free.

A new initiative, coined Movers and Shakas after the shaka hand gesture, a popular greeting in the state, is encouraging individuals to take their work-from-home lifestyle to the island of Oahu, with complimentary travel arrangements and discounts on lodging and co-working spaces. The program requires individuals who are already employed and able to work remotely to sign a pledge to be a “good neighbor” and participate in nonprofit work three to five hours per week to benefit local communities, and it comes at a time when the Hawaiian islands are not seeing their usual visitors.

[READ: Hawaii Imposes New Protocol for Tourism During Pandemic]

“Very early in the COVID period, we were noticing that more and more Kamaaina, or former residents, were returning to Hawaii,” says Jason Higa, CEO of FCH Enterprises, one of the leaders of the program. “They had been working for their Seattle, Bay Area or L.A. employer, and they were remote-working anyway from their small apartments in those cities, and were able to come back to Hawaii, reunite with their families, and quite obviously it was a unique opportunity — one of the silver linings of COVID.”

The program began taking applications on Nov. 29 for 50 spots. “What we’re really hoping at the end of their stay is that it wasn’t the free round-trip ticket that was memorable,” Higa says, but that “it was the experience that they had working with the nonprofit, but really learning about our people, our culture, our community, and that’s really the experience that we’re hoping to provide to these 50 cohorts.”

In partnership with the Hawaiian government and local leaders, the Central Pacific Bank Foundation, Hawai’i Executive Collaborative, Island Holdings, Inkinen, the Omidyar Group and FCH Enterprises developed the program, Higa says, responding to the state’s economic struggles related to tourism since the coronavirus pandemic began.

After strict two-week quarantine measures for travelers were instituted at the beginning of the pandemic and throughout the summer, and after seeing a loss of 97.6% of visitors in August compared to the same time the year before, the Hawaiian government began to encourage travel once again in October, replacing the quarantine policy with mandatory testing.

The Hawaiian economy saw some of the biggest blows from the coronavirus pandemic, with 19.3% of its jobs based in leisure and hospitality, and a 53% job loss in those industries between February and August, according to Pew Research Center. With the new testing policy, the state hoped to encourage its travel sector to flourish once again, welcoming more than 65,000 visitors to the islands in the first week of the new testing protocol. Despite Hawaii’s economic troubles during the pandemic, the state’s low COVID-19 case count — perhaps a testament to its strict travel policies — is also touted as a selling point for those interested in making the move.

The Aloha State is not alone in incentivizing remote workers to make the move. Vermont initiated a program last year encouraging newcomers to work from home in the state, to bolster the local economy and aging population. The program has allocated all of its funding, though plans are reportedly in the works for additional grants.

Utah also has a program in place to invite workers to move to the state; some of its incentives include free courses that teach workers how to make the transition to the digital world. The state’s economy has been more stable than both Hawaii’s and Vermont’s throughout the pandemic, boasting some of the best employment numbers in September, but the opportunity for remote workers still remains.

More from U.S. News

Tens of Thousands Arrive in Hawaii With Pre-Travel Testing

Hawaii Imposes New Protocol for Tourism During Pandemic

Hawaiians Struggle With Social Distancing as Cultural Norms Call For Close Contact

Hawaii Wants You to Work From Home During the Pandemic — on Oahu originally appeared on usnews.com

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