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Downtown office spaces expecting workers to be back in waves after July 4, Labor Day

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Posted at 4:25 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 23:23:47-04

CLEVELAND — Almost overnight in March 2020, downtown workers left their office space to work remotely through the COVID pandemic.

While many of us tried to figure out a new COVID protocol from home, DeJuan Brooks was figuring it all out in the Weston Herd Law Office, taking temperatures for a while and helping guide guests through changing mask recommendations.

“My role kept changing because more people kept coming in,” said Brooks.

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Brooks has been in his office through much of the pandemic, taking advantage of his building's new gym before much of the building returned.

Office building managers tell News 5 law firms kept their offices mostly staffed through the pandemic while other offices appear to be about a quarter full as of June.

Mary Jo O’Neill is the Parent Advocate at the law firm Hickman & Lowder, where she represents families when they meet with school districts. She says her office just made sure lawyers and employees staggered their days in the building during the pandemic, allowing them to stay socially distanced but available for clients.

“That rotating schedule was helpful and the families needed to feel that we were here for them,” said O’Neill.

Even though there is still a lot of empty space in downtown office buildings right now, O’Neil and Brooks say it feels busier every week.

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O'Neill's office struck a balance between having lawyers and employees in the office while making sure there weren't too many people in one spot.

“It’s great to see,” said O’Neill. “You see more than one person at the stop sign, more than one person at the stoplight.”

Perspectus Architecture was working out of its offices in Shaker Square when the pandemic started and signed a lease for new downtown space a few weeks into the pandemic.

“Everybody we talked to said, 'Really? You took more space and not less space?'” said Perspectus Managing Principal Bill Ayars.

Instead, Perspectus redesigned the space and built it out while their employees worked from home as they would have anyway. The clear barriers and extra personal space we’ve all gotten used to during the pandemic are permanent in their office space.

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Ayars says Perspectus Architecture's move downtown during the pandemic gave them time to design the office they wanted while adapting to pandemic-safe working conditions.

“They would have been a little tighter, and we wouldn’t have as much of this,” said Ayars, pointing to workspaces for employees and the glass barriers between them.

Perspectus’s nearly 50 employees are already back in the office, but now they have more options to custom-tailor their work/life balance.

“We love the flexibility and I think, for the next few years, that’s going to be key: being flexible and flexible with the people,” said Ayars, pointing out new considerations for family circumstances and responsibilities. “Instead of having one human resource manual that covers everything you almost have to have 45 of them because everybody’s situation is different.”

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Perspectus has its office back downtown but also designed more space into work areas and additional break out rooms for zoom calls and meeting space separated from the rest of the office.

At the same time, more downtown workers are able to move around without a mask and return to their normal haunts for lunch and coffee.

“It just feels good to actually be able to interact in a regular manner without having to second-guess everything,” said Brooks.

“That's why we moved down here,” said Ayars. “We wanted the energy.”

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