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Fight the FOMO: What It's Like to Work (and Not Work) During SXSW

Jorge Sanhueza Lyon/KUT
An overhead view of SXSW 2016.

This time of year, thousands of visitors flock to Austin to network and to party. And thousands of Austinites still need to get up in the morning and go to their jobs. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s just not even possible. 

On the corner of Seventh and Neches streets in Downtown Austin, you couldn't get in the front door of Caritas of Austin  if you wanted to. The sidewalk in front of Caritas,  -a service provider on this street that fights poverty and homelessness, is blocked to pedestrians. 

Lindsey Dickson works downtown at Caritas of Austin. Come South by, she says, Caritas shuts down because of street closures and parking scarcity.

"You know, we understand that this part of the DNA of who Austin is, but it really does paralyze us in some ways," says Lindsey Dickson, a communications manager at Caritas.  

Streets gets barricaded, so clients can’t get downtown. Volunteers don’t want to pay inflated parking prices – if they even find parking – so the community kitchen closes.

Dickson says some people can work remotely, "but, as far as services and operations down here, we really do just close down shop."

While some want to work and can't, others have to work more than ever. Take Austin's army of service industry employees. 

"If you're in this industry, you know that you're not taking any time off this week, or last week," says Emily Darr, a manager at Stay Gold in East Austin. 

Even outside the service industry, managers might keep special tabs on employees this time of year. After all, who wants to work with all this fun stuff going on? Killian Hagen is in marketing at the online shipping company uShip. Their offices are right next to the convention center and, during the throes of SXSW, it's easy to get distracted.

“It’s a little hard to focus, I would say," he says. "Obviously, there’s a lot of thumping bass, lot of people walking around...'FOMO' is real.” FOMO, of course, meaning "fear of missing out."

"Social media doesn’t help that at all," he adds.

To fight the FOMO, uShip takes a relaxed approach during SXSW. Most employees can show up a bit late or take off for a show or a panel. The company even hosts its own party this time of year.

“You can tend to see the bags under people’s eyes get darker and darker as the week goes on, because people are trying to play both sides of going out and having a great time but also trying to work all day," Hagen says. 

Tim Burris is a professor of management at UT Austin, says giving workers leeway can boost productivity. It increases morale and an employee’s sense of autonomy, “but, on the other hand, workers can take advantage of that."

In the end, he says, how much freedom workers have generally depends on the nature of the work. If you're part of a team that depends on you to show up, you're probably still working through the party.  If you’re a university professor, like Burris, you can make your own schedule.

"I'm looking forward to some hiking and some white water rafting," he said. 

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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