HB 1293 – Grants for Remote Work Transitions

Woman working from home

By: J. S.

Can remote work be the future for many of Hawaii’s businesses? During the 2020 shutdowns across Hawaii, businesses were forced to get creative and work remotely. Industries that had once occupied large office spaces learned to go virtual. Many corporations across the United States are still engaged in remote work. House Bill 1239 would provide $1 million in grants for businesses in Hawaii continuing the transition to remote work. Funding would apply to businesses operated in Hawaii, privately owned businesses, and businesses under a certain number of employees, the number of which has not yet been designated.

The bill would provide grant money for Hawaii businesses interested in making a switch to this method of work. Funds would be used to create virtual offices and build remote work capabilities. The funding would cover practical needs such as computer equipment, home office equipment and even partial residential utility costs. Preference would be given to businesses that could prove a significant reduction in year over year revenue, small businesses and businesses looking to reduce a high occupancy in a building or reduce the number of miles traveled by employees.

The bill was introduced in January by 16 House Representatives. Bolstering remote work capabilities is in keeping with Governor Ige’s plans for “Hawaii 2.0”, which the governor introduced in his State Address in January. Hawaii 2.0 includes implementing greater broadband capabilities across the state and bolstering Hawaii’s economy outside of Tourism.

In his speech, Governor Ige stated his intention to secure Hawaii’s share of 7 billion in Federal funding for digital upgrades across the state. “In addition, my legislative package this year includes a bill to create a Broadband and Digital Equity Office to oversee these efforts. This office will also enable us to identify and secure Hawaiʻi’s share of $7 billion in new federal funds for broadband infrastructure and digital equity programs.” the governor said during his address.

Statista released a report in April of this year revealing current remote work trends. Before Covid and lockdowns, 17% of United States workers worked from home 5 or more days a week. After Covid lockdowns, 44% of workers reported working from home the same amount of time. Though unanticipated, there are proven benefits that remote work provides. The report shared that employers are seeing positive feedback for remote work in employee wellness surveys. Remote work also frees up rent from expensive office space.

Remote work has been correlated with higher work satisfaction according to a recent Stanford study. Cutting commute time and driving in traffic are both important factors. Another is that employees no longer have to deal with in-office distractions, and can work in a way that fits best with their individual needs. Often remote work correlates with increased efficiency. 

Employers can also see benefits of remote work, with an estimated savings of $2,000 per employee in overhead costs according to the Stanford study. With Hawaii’s high costs for utilities this could mean additional savings for businesses. Reducing rent costs is another benefit. The state is already seeing an increase in vacant office spaces, with an estimated 15% vacancy rate in office space throughout the state.

Across the country, large companies are changing to different remote work structures. Dropbox will be making a permanent switch, using existing office space as an optional workspace called Dropbox Studios for employees. Shopify and Skillshare are also offering permanent work from home options. Industries that are traditionally office based are also going remote. Lincoln Financial Group, a financial services company, is offering remote work options to several hundred employees. It remains to be seen if Hawaii based businesses will choose long term remote work, or if workers will return to more traditional office structures.