'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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It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.
Years before the city of Austin went Verde, thousands of the city's soccer fans formed a supporters' group—MLS in Austin—for a team that didn't even exist yet.
Now, as the team's catchphrase suggests, those same fans are #LISTOS as they prepare to see their team on national television at Austin FC's debut on Saturday.
What to expect
The team will face a significant opponent in LAFC, who is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Head Coach Josh Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Austin FC starting lineup vs. LAFC
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who wears the captain's armband for his new team. We still don't have any updates for starting forward Rodney Redes, who may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee.
If Redes is fine, we think he'll stay at forward, where he's been excelling throughout preseason. If not, a more experienced Kekuta Manneh might take to the pitch in his stead. Midfielder Jared Stroud is also in the running after he went in for an injured Redes against San Antonio FC on April 10.
While Captain Alex Ring and DPs Tomas Pochettino and Dominguez are shoe-ins for the starting lineup, some other positions are up in the air.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Pereira, Austin FC's No. 1 SuperDraft pick, has done even better than expected in preliminary scrimmages. He's still young, however, and Austin FC recruited him more for his depth than immediate starting appeal. If Pereira doesn't start, it's likely to be Diego Fagundez who takes the starting spot.
Another young potential starter comes in 22-year-old Jhohan Romana, a sturdy defender who has shown inconsistency in preseason. The backline is a clear weak spot for the team so far, and while Romana shows promise, Wolff may look for experience in Julio Cascante for their first starting lineup.
Finally, goalies Brad Stuver and Andrew Tarbell are neck-and-neck in the race for a starting spot. We put Stuver on here for his preseason performance, but neither would be a surprise as starting goalkeepers.
How we got here
It's hard to put into words how monumental it is for these supporters to see their own team one day away from its historic opening match, but the excitement can be felt across the city.
To put things in perspective, here's a timeline of events that brought us here, from "MLS in Austin" all the way up to Saturday's opener.
Where to watch
While Austin FC's first season will officially be underway, their inaugural match will be nearly 1,500 miles away from their home city.
That's no problem for some fans, including those in Austin FC fan group Los Verdes. A group of dedicated supporters are going to the West Coast to welcome their team into the stadium. While LAFC isn't officially allowing Austin fans in due to COVID protocol, some are still searching for a way to watch their beloved team take the pitch for the first time.
Meanwhile, thousands of dedicated fans are also staying home to support their club. Austin FC's first official watch party is sold out with over 1,000 RSVPs, and Austin Anthem is holding a 1000 plus-person watch party as well. For a full list of Austin FC watch parties and participating pubs, click here.
For those staying home, the match will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Don't miss out on the game!
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