Much has been written about how the pandemic has upended work life, perhaps permanently. But while many employers have embraced the idea of remote working, not everybody is a fan. In a New York Times essay, one of the partners in a Houston law firm recounts how productivity tanked when their office shut down in March 2020. "There is a cost to working at home that goes beyond depression, disconnectedness, and failing to bathe regularly," writes John Zavitsanos. "It can drain morale and diminish collegiality." After five weeks of distracted Zoom calls, the firm took what was then an unusual step: It reopened the office, with precautions—mask mandates in common areas, thorough cleanings, plastic shields, staggered lunches, etc.
The firm also offered exceptions based on age and vulnerability, and it allowed anyone who wanted to stay home to do so. Some employees did get COVID, possibly after going to a bar together, but nobody became seriously ill. When vaccines arrived, the firm made them mandatory. In the end, the firm had its best year ever. Instead of instituting layoffs or furloughs, it actually hired eight new lawyers and saw revenue rise 39%. Zavitsanos writes that too many business owners become "paranoid or risk-averse" amid adversity and act timidly instead of properly weighing the pros and cons. "We did not deny the existence or seriousness of the coronavirus," he concludes. "But we did not think that nothing else mattered." Read his full essay. (Read more remote working stories.)