COVID illustration

Answers from the Pandemic Check-in Poll

It has been a year and a half since COVID changed many things about the world, especially the way we work and unwind. To honor this quarter’s Wellness theme, a few members of the Denver Bar Association Young Lawyers Division were invited to participate in a Pandemic Check-In Poll. Here’s some of what they had to say…

How have you personally and professional coped with the pandemic thus far?
Like everyone, the pandemic has been challenging on many levels. Having a supportive spouse and no children has made it much easier on me than I imagine it has been for many others. As a domestic relations practitioner, I certainly have seen an uptick in cases that started in approximately the summer of 2020 and shows no signs of slowing. The DR issues presented by the pandemic (disagreements between parents regarding pod vs. virtual vs. in-person learning, mask requirements, and levels of parental comfort with travel and socializing) were challenging because they were unprecedented and frequently needed to be decided under very tight deadlines. 

In the early days of the pandemic, I did not cope well personally or professionally. My wife was pregnant, and we did not know the risk COVID posed to my wife or our unborn child. As a result, we were incredibly cautious during this time which meant we did not see family or friends even though a lot of our family and friends continued to see one another. 

Now that my wife gave birth, we are vaccinated, and things have opened up a bit, I feel some sense of normalcy again. I am always worried though about stay-at-home orders being reinstated because my wife and I both work and working from home with two small children can be difficult and frustrating (if not impossible).

I’m an introvert, so it wasn’t hard to personally cope with the pandemic. I explored my hobbies in music and photography, probably just like I would have done as if there were no pandemic. I shifted from portraits to wildlife when the pandemic was at its worst, but now I’m back to portraits. Professionally, the pandemic was a major factor in me accepting an invitation from the JAG Corps to serve out of the Pentagon for a year, and a major factor in agreeing to extend the mobilization by another year. I moved to Denver from San Antonio to open the Colorado branch of my sister’s law firm and expand our operations, but the pandemic would have made it very difficult to start something new. So, I’m riding it out and doing some interesting war crimes work in the meantime, then hopefully by the end of this tour, things are back to normal and I can try again to open up the Denver branch. 

Professionally, we’ve had to shift our in-person networking efforts to digital marketing efforts and utilize phone calls and zoom meetings for things that we would prefer be in-person meetings. Across the board we’ve had to strengthen our digital presence and make sure that our brand and competitive advantages translate to the digital world. In terms of relationship building, it’s been difficult. You can accomplish far more over a single lunch than you can over multiple zoom happy hours or whatever you want to call them. Nevertheless, we’ve found that more frequent, brief communications have allowed us to continue relationship building, where previously we may have focused on less frequent but longer interactions, such as lunches, dinners, Rockies games, golf outings, etc…

Personally, COVID has been a buzzkill. As an extroverted person, my world has closed and been diminished, and many of my outlets for fun and relaxation have been eliminated. There’s no real way to soften that blow. You just survive and keep moving forward, and trust that eventually we will get back to normal and the world as we knew it will return.

Are you working virtually, in-person, or utilizing a hybrid option? How do you like it?
I am doing a hybrid option at the moment where I am in the office approximately 2 days per week. I really enjoy working this way – it gives me a change of scenery and provides the ability to take care of household tasks at lunch or on short breaks throughout the day, which in turn frees up my weekends.  It also saves me approximately 30 minutes of commute time on days I work from home.

I am utilizing a hybrid option but mostly working in-person. I love having the option to work from home or to come into the office. A silver lining that has developed since COVID is organizations’ flexibility when it comes to appearing for meetings in person or remotely. 

The Department of Defense has been pretty proactive with its pandemic work options. I worked remotely for a few weeks, and now I am mostly in the office but still remote on Fridays. There’s a certain quota that the offices have, like making sure that 60% of staff are teleworking. I think that’s a great arrangement! I’m productive virtually, maybe even more productive because I can control my environment better at home than at the office and there are no co-workers who can pop in for chit-chat. I also found a place that’s in walking distance of work, so even when I’m working remotely, I can be in the office in minutes if I’m actually needed. For a time, the mask requirement was relaxed, but now it’s back to being masked anytime we are not at our desk. I got vaccinated through a Pentagon program in March, at it was voluntary at the time but I think the recent FDA approval has resulted in a vaccination requirement across the military. All-around good news there, I think. 

In the early days of the pandemic, I was working virtually, and I hated it. Staying within the same four walls of my home all day every day was maddening. I like the change of scenery and interacting with people. I like eating at restaurants for lunch, and I like walking around the city to clear my head. Waking up and moving from one room for the workday, just to return to another room at the end of the day was monotonous and constricting.  

These days it’s business as usual, and I work from my office any time I’m working, and my home is my place to relax and unwind. I strongly prefer it to working remotely. 

How would you like to see employers responding to COVID-19 this fall?
I would like to see employers offer the greatest possible degree of flexibility in terms of whether employees are in-person or work from home. Everyone has their own personal risk tolerance, which is becoming more important with the rise of more contagious variants and breakthrough infections. Particularly in the legal field, where the vast majority of jobs can be done just as effectively from home, employees should not feel like they are taking unnecessary risks by coming to the office. Employers should also have robust and well-communicated COVID protocols in the event an exposure occurs in the workplace.

It is clear to me that politicians are unwilling to spend political capital to require masking and vaccinations. Unfortunately, that means the impetus for action falls on private organizations. I would like employers to mandate vaccines, mandate masks (when there are six or more people), and encourage (even pay for) frequent testing and staying home with any exposure or symptoms.

If a stay-at-home order is re-instated, I would like employers to be more flexible regarding the times of day employees work to allow flexibility with children.

I would think employers should craft a COVID-19 this fall that fits with whatever the medical professionals advise. If the Delta variant is severely spreading this fall, then employers should allow telework to the extent possible. Maybe having people Zoom in to work would help ensure that they are actually keeping themselves accountable and gainfully employed.

With clear and open expectations. I think everyone has their own comfort level and their own risk tolerance when it comes to COVID exposure. There are valid reasons for people to want to continue to work remotely, and there are valid reasons for an employer to want people in the office. Remote work helps to ensure the health and safety of employees, and saves them time in their days because there is no need to commute, dress up, pack a lunch, etc. On the other hand, working collaboratively in an office facilitates clear and open communication, a team environment, camaraderie, and mutual understanding of goals/working styles/personality types, etc.

I think each employer should be able to make their own determination of whether or not a return to the office is warranted for their business and should be permitted to clearly communicate that to current or prospective employees. The same for employees. Maybe continued employment won’t be a fit, maybe there is a compromise, who knows. I just think everything should be above board.

Special thanks to Docket Committee Chair Jessica Cordero and to all the attorneys who participated in the survey.