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When Konstantin B., a vertical foundry ontologist working at Austin's Google offices, was told he would be working from home, he felt simultaneously safer and more inspired.
"Working from home has been a relief in the very real sense that it minimized my chances of getting infected," Konstantin says.
Google, as with other big tech companies such as Twitter and Facebook, has had their employees and contractors working remotely since March. In July, the search engine announced that it would extend its remote working policy until September 2021.
Konstantin B.'s at home setup as an employee of Google. (Konstantin B.)
Konstantin, who asked for his last name not to be used for privacy concerns, says Google management has been exceptionally open-minded regarding the breaks necessary to keep sane and productive while working from home.
"They understand that working from home can be daunting, as staying at home can be hard on mental health," he says. "It's best to pace yourself and be productive the whole week, instead of just pushing through and being awake for two days and getting all the work done then."
Reports from Google's internal data in October showed, coding from home has had a negative effect on Google's productivity. In June an internal survey found that only 31% of the company's engineers reported feeling "highly productive," a number that was down 8% from a record high in the March quarter.
Elsa Morales, senior account director at Austin's Giant Noise Public Relations and Communications, who has been working from home since March, has found remote working relaxing.
"Working from home has encouraged me to take breaks during the day and take short walks around my neighborhood which I've really enjoyed," says Morales.
Elsa Morales is the senior account director at Austin's Giant Noise Public Relations and Communications. (Elsa Morales)
But despite the perks of strolling between screen-sessions, Morales feels that everyone misses that face-to-face exchange of ideas and in-person interaction.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, it was a bit challenging getting a hang of constantly communicating on the phone or video. Not having that in-person collaboration has probably been one of the biggest challenges for me," she says, adding, "being together in the office allowed us to have brainstorm sessions over coffee or immediately bouncing ideas off each other after a call."
A recent poll published in Forbes, which surveyed 312 people working from home, found that 82% agreed or strongly agreed that they enjoyed working from home, and 60% said they felt less stressed working from home.
Gina Littlefield, CEO of Austin Staffing, Inc., says working from home has allowed the more introspective individuals in the business world to really shine.
"The people that are real outgoing Type A Personalities, they are the ones having an issue," she adds, referring to those employees that thrive off the more social aspects of office work. "I think you are seeing a bit of depression, especially if you are that Type A Personality—you want to be in the world with everyone there and going into the lunchroom and feeling that hustle-bustle, and I feel a lot of people are having troubles right now and so I definitely feel that has to be addressed."
Gina Littlefield is the CEO of Austin Staffing. (Gina Littlefield)
Littlefield is certain that working from home will become a major facet of the business world since everything is done electronically. She stipulates that as far as her company is concerned the decision to work from home will be entirely up to the individual worker.
"We are happy to be able to extend that final decision to them and sometimes it works well for them because they have small children and they can't take them to a daycare and can't do this or that, so, you know what? That's workable, and why not? I have no problem with that."
In order to accommodate those who want to work in an actual office during the pandemic, Littlefield is currently looking into purchasing a new building to expand the physical office space to allow everyone six feet of separation from workstation to workstation.
"We have half of our people out and half of our people in," says Littlefield. "We do intend to have people in (person) more but (want to) give them the opportunity to make the decision to come and go if they need. We want people to enjoy working from home."
17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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