Hawai’i seeks to be seen as a remote workplace
with a view
By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
The Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) — Software engineer Raymond Berger begins his
work day at 5:00am, before the sun comes up over Hawai’i.
Rising early is necessary because the company he works for is
in New York City, five hours ahead of Maui, where he is renting
a home with a backyard that’s near the beach.
"It’s a little hard with the time zone difference," he said.
"But generally I have a much better quality of life."
The pandemic is giving many workers the freedom to do their
jobs from anywhere. Now that Hawai’i’s economy is reeling from
dramatically fewer tourists, a group of state officials and
community leaders wants more people like Berger to help provide
an alternative to relying on short-term visitors.
Coinciding with the approach of winter in other parts of the
U.S., "Movers & Shakas" — a reference to the Hawai’i term for
the "hang loose" hand gesture — launched Sunday as a campaign to
attract former residents and those from elsewhere to set up
remote offices with a view. They’re touting Hawai’i’s
paradisiacal and safety attributes: among the lowest rates per
capita of COVID-19 infections in the country.
The first 50 applicants approved starting Sunday received a
free, roundtrip ticket to Honolulu. Applicants pledge to respect
Hawai’i’s culture and natural resources and participants must
commit several hours a week to helping a local nonprofit.
It didn’t take much to convince Abbey Tizzano to leave behind
her Austin, Texas, apartment to join four Silicon Valley friends
in a rented house in Kahala, Honolulu’s version of Beverly
She had never been to Hawai’i before. She booked a one-way
ticket, arrived in September, and quarantined for 14 days,
complying with the state’s rules at the time for arriving
travellers. She’s keeping Central time zone hours while working
in account management for a software company, allowing her to
end the work day early enough to enjoy long hikes along mountain
ridges or walk five minutes to the beach.
"It’s like I live two lives right now. There’s the corporate
side for ... the early mornings," Tizzano said. "And then
there’s just like the Hawai’i lifestyle after I get off work
around noon or 1:00pm."
Neighbors tell the remote workers they’re a welcome change
from the bachelor and bachelorette parties the luxury home
normally hosts, she said.
Tizzano wonders what other locals think of them: "Are they
appreciative of people coming that want to help stimulate the
economy or are they concerned that they’re going to raise
housing prices more and stuff like that?"
Housing is a real concern in a state where there’s an
affordable housing crisis, said Nicole Woo, a policy analyst for
Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice.
She worries that if their presence remains beyond the
pandemic and if they come in larger numbers, they could start
pushing property values even higher.
Lifelong Kauai resident Jonathon Medeiros felt uncomfortable
when he saw an airline ad luring remote workers to Hawai’i.
The remote worker campaign just feels to him like another
kind of tourism. "We just get portrayed as this paradise, a
place for you to come and play," he said. "And there’s such
privilege involved in that attitude."
One focus of the campaign sounds appealing to Medeiros, a
public high school teacher: An opportunity for those who grew up
in Hawai’i to come home without having to take the pay cuts that
are often required to work here.
"I see so many of my students, they graduate and many of them
leave and never come back," he said, "because they don’t see
Kauai as a place where they can make a life."
Richard Matsui grew up in Honolulu. After high school, he
left for the U.S. mainland and Asia for educational and career
As CEO of kWh Analytics, he never expected to be able to
leave California’s Bay Area and still be able to run the
The pandemic shut down childcare options in San Francisco for
his baby born in January. He and his wife planned to come to
Honolulu for a month so that his mother could help with the
baby. A month turned into two and then six.
"If there’s an opportunity now to take mainland salaries and
our mainland jobs and to execute them well from Hawai’i, I do
think that Hawai’i has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to
diversify the economy and ... take advantage of the fact that
our core strength is Hawai’i is a tremendously wonderful place
to live and to raise kids," he said.
The idea behind the campaign started with wanting more people
like Matsui to come home, said Jason Higa, CEO of FCH
Enterprises, parent company of Hawai’i’s popular Zippy’s
Then the group started thinking about broadening it to
With the impacts on housing in mind, Higa said the group
included a vacation rental company that’s sitting on a large
inventory of vacant properties normally rented by tourists.
Wissam Ali-Ahmad, a software solution architect from San
Jose, California, is renting a Kauai condo that’s normally
marketed to vacationers.
He has picked up side projects as a consultant for local food
trucks and restaurants to help the small businesses improve
their contactless services.
"I feel like I’m a guest here, and I have to contribute as
much as possible," he said.
Many Hawai’i neighborhoods are overrun with illegal
short-term vacation rentals, and having those properties
occupied legally by longer-term tenants is appealing, said Ryan
Ozawa, communications director for local tech company, Hawai’i
"What I like about the idea of, say, a cabal of Twitter
employees all moving to Kailua is that one, they bring their
jobs with them, so you’re not talking about displacement in that
regard," he said. "But for all of the things that we want, which
is local sales tax, groceries, electric bill, et cetera, you
know, those paychecks from San Francisco get spent in Hawai’i."
The Honolulu suburb of Kailua has been struggling with how to
manage an influx of short-term vacation rentals. It’s where
Julia Miller, who works for a company that provides payroll
services for small businesses, her Google employee husband and
their two toddlers, ended up last month when they left Northern
California’s dreary weather and fires.
"We do feel really grateful that we were able to come here
and be welcome," she said. "We want to do our part in keeping
While the Millers plan to stay four to six months, others are
looking at Hawai’i as a longer-term remote workplace.
Software engineer Gil Tene and his wife, an intensive care
unit doctor, bought a house in September in Hanalei, Kauai’s
most desirable beach town of multimillion-dollar homes.
They plan to split their time between Hanalei and Palo Alto,
California, so they looked for a property with remote working in
mind. They settled on a five-bedroom house — enough rooms for
Tene to work in, his wife to see patients virtually in, and
their daughter to study in.
"What you look for in a place you intend to work from is very
different than when you want to vacation," he said.