'The workplace of the immediate tomorrow': Reopening Austin offices plan for one-way foot traffic, sanitizing stations, distanced desks
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Consider the elevator. Commercial ones are typically between five and eight feet square, according to the Elevator Lab, meaning only one person can be inside while also observing social distancing guidelines. In a busy office building, with rush hour elevator traffic at the start and end of the workday, this poses a challenge. During a pandemic, it gets worse.
"Man, this one's been really tough," said Tim Hendricks, senior vice president of Cousins Properties' Austin office, during a webinar hosted by the Austin Chamber of Commerce last week.
Elevator protocol is just one of the many questions facing businesses as they decide whether to reopen their offices at limited capacity, now that the governor has given the green light to do so. Other concerns include temperature checks, one-way foot traffic, liability and masking requirements.
Cousins, a real estate firm, surveyed its Austin tenants—some 185 businesses with offices in the central business district and at the Domain—about their reopening plans and heard a wide range of responses. "We do think that the majority of our customers will be phasing in in some kind of staggered process," Hendricks said during the webinar.
This is the case for STG Design, a commercial architecture and interior design firm. Its Austin office is home to 80 employees and will begin a phased reopening June 1, associate principal Paul LaBrant said.
Initially, employees will return to the office at a scheduled time to clean their desk and clear out any personal items. In mid-June, employees will be able to return based on their assignments. "It is very much on a voluntary basis," LaBrant said.
In preparation, STG is marking the floor with arrows to help staff adjust to one-direction foot traffic, setting up sanitation stations and blocking off certain desks to allow for social distancing. The company will also offer employees virtual walkthroughs of the updated office. "So they're not having to figure it out once they get there," LaBrant said.
As STG prepares for its own reopening, its staff is also considering how this pandemic will change office design—and is working with its clients to help them make the shift. "The workplace of today is not going to work for the workplace of the immediate tomorrow," LaBrant said.
He foresees offices becoming more limited in both size and scope—offering a hub for innovation and meetings—as teleworking becomes more routine. Part of this change, he said, is because employees with children will likely be unable to come into the office for many months as schools and camps continue to adjust their operations. But it is also the result of new priorities.
"The American work culture has always been work first, family second," LaBrant said. "Now I think we are forced into seeing that our lives matter as much as the work that we do, and there's going to be a balance there."
While STG will begin its reopening next month, some of its local clients are planning to stay home through November—"just because they want to see how other companies do this, and they're still seeing productivity … while their teams are working from home," LaBrant said.
For those companies that do reopen in the coming days and weeks, communication will be paramount.
"The best defense for liability for your business or your company is going to be a well-crafted, comprehensive return-to-office plan that is vigorously followed at your place of business," said Pamela Madere, a real estate attorney at Jackson Walker's Austin office, during the same webinar.
Such a plan—if developed in accordance with CDC guidelines—will help employees know what to do and protect employers from lawsuits. It may also come in handy if COVID-19 cases spike.
"We really want to be ready for a future outbreak," Madere said. "We know it's coming at some point."
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Samsung might soon be making more moves in the Austin metro.
The tech giant, which made waves as it announced plans to build a $17 billion chip plant in Taylor in late 2021, might be looking to expand in the Northeast Austin area, according to an Austin Business Journal report.
ABJ said the South Korean company is seeking more tax breaks from nearby Taylor and Manor school districts. The company filed documents requesting Chapter 313 incentives related to the breaks Saturday, and ABJ said each district will review the requests separately on Tuesday.
"While we do not have specific plans to build at this time, the Chapter 313 application process is part of our long-term planning to evaluate the viability of potentially building additional fabrication plants in the U.S.," Samsung Austin Semiconductor LLC.'s director of communications, Michele Glaze, told the ABJ.
But Samsung has made headlines for more than just the $17 billion plant: In early 2022, the company caught heat for two separate spills of millions of gallons of wastewater into tributaries near its semiconductor plant.
While no expansion is promised, ABJ speculates that expansions could occur at the 1,200 acre planned Taylor factory or near the chipmaking factory on Austin's East Parmer Lane. Both expansions could bring even more revenue and job opportunities to Samsung's Texas home.
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A first minute error gave Austin FC an early setback, but with the help of two red cards and two second-half goals, the Verde and Black still forced a last-minute tie in a messy home battle against Orlando City SC Sunday night.
With the 2-2 draw, Austin dropped from No. 1 in the MLS West conference but still earned a point in the standings thanks to a penalty kick goal from Sebastian Driussi and a breakthrough shot from striker Moussa Djitte, who scored his first goal with the club in the final minute of play.
Here are the top three takeaways from the match:
A fateful mistake
Just days after his highlight reel-worthy LAFC performance, Austin keeper Brad Stuver scratched heads as he gave away a goal seconds into the game. Stuver's fateful pass went straight to Orlando's Junior Urco, who was already in the box and tapped a quick pass to Ercan Kara to score the first goal of the match.
The mistake forced Austin to chase a tie for the rest of the match, especially as center back Ruben Gabrielsen benched himself in the 20th minute. The team later said Gabrielsen has come down with something similar to a stomach bug.
Orlando would score two minutes later, and Austin FC left the first half looking like the opposite of its "Best in the MLS" self from just days prior.
The two red cards
By the 60th minute of the match, however, the tides had turned. Orlando's Rodrigo Schlegel, who had already racked up a yellow card on a handball, was ousted from the game two minutes later for yet another handball, this time in the penalty box.
Austin's main man Sebastian Driussi took the kick and sent it in for his eighth goal of the season to make it 2-1.
And just over five minutes later, Orlando's Cesar Araujo was the second man in purple kicked out of the match after he kicked Alex Ring on a slide tackle near the box. Austin was left with just over 20 minutes, and just nine opponents left, to try and tie it up.
The 'Mouss' is loose!
As the whistle blew and regulation time ran out, Orlando seemed to have won the match. The team had withstood many, many close calls—including two shots off the post from Austin FC's Diego Fagundez and Maxi Urruti—as Austin FC flooded the box with 22 cracks at a goal.
But thanks to the chaotic nature of the game, Austin FC was given nine extra minutes to tie it up. Moussa Djitte was the one who finally broke through five minutes into stoppage time, earning his first goal in Verde to put a 2-2 cap on the wild home match.
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