Eugene businesses at different stages of returning to in-person work

After more than two years of working remotely, the offices of architects, public defenders, game developers and more in Eugene are trying to find the right balance between in-person and virtual operations and say they believe some changes are here to stay.

Such is the case at Pivot Architecture, a downtown Eugene firm that operates a hybrid model where designers come in three days a week for in-person work.

Although some of their work can be done at home, lead architect Toby Barwood said much of their collaborative design work requires them to be in the same room.

“A lot of things – like designing a building with your colleagues – you really can’t do that easily remotely because there’s a lot of feedback, and it’s hard to bounce ideas off of each other with the technology we have for remote work,” Barwood said.

Pivot went from full telecommuting to one day a week in the office this spring, then worked up to three days, Barwood said. For young designers new to the business, Barwood said it’s been beneficial to offer them in-person days so they can get more personal mentorship.

“It’s hard to get that mentorship in a remote location and actively seek it out, and the casual interactions you get in an office space, in our company, and learning the details of the architecture,” said Barwood.

Some stay away

Some companies have so far remained isolated.

In downtown Eugene, Pipeworks Studios video game company employee Michael Jones said he enjoyed the shift to working from home. He said it hadn’t been that different because he was already somewhat separated as the company’s sole sound designer.

“For me, being home has freed me from a lot of work distractions related to unnecessary meetings or conversations,” he said. “Here I can concentrate a lot more and get things done faster.”

The virtual format of video games has also made it easier to switch to remote work, he said.

“Everything has to be saved on a server and backed up anyway, so it hasn’t really changed our workflow,” Jones said.

Since the pandemic began, Jones said he’s also noticed more workers joining the company who don’t have to relocate to Eugene and work remotely from places as far apart as Florida and Pennsylvania.

Pivot Architecture, based in downtown Eugene, has adopted a hybrid work policy requiring employees to return to the office at least three days a week.

Public defenders try to find the right combination for meetings

For defense attorneys at Lane County Public Defense Services, it’s up to them whether they work primarily in-person or remotely. Executive director Brook Reinhard said some spend the majority of their time in person, or vice versa.

With the many different meetings — whether with a client or an opposition prosecutor — Reinhard said his office is trying to keep the most useful remote meetings as well as the most essential in-person meetings that could determine the outcome of certain cases.

“For example, I have a client in Portland and we have a court hearing where we’re checking on his status, so it’s really helpful if my client can appear remotely,” Reinhard said. “At the same time, it’s much more helpful if I’m in person with a prosecutor so that we have the opportunity to talk about a case and figure out how to resolve it or figure out that we’re going to be tried.”

In some cases, the remote appearance option has made it easier for defendants who would otherwise have difficulty appearing in person. But with courts starting to return to all in-person meetings, that option is becoming less available, Reinhard said.

“Now that we’ve come back in person with everything else, it takes a lot more legwork to get my client in Portland to appear remotely than it did six months ago,” Reinhard said.

But in other cases, like a life-changing criminal trial, Reinhard said he thinks it’s crucial that the judge and prosecutors see the defendants in person.

“I want the people who are making that decision, whether it’s a judge, prosecutor, or jury, to see the person they’re affecting,” he said.

Coworking spaces embrace remote working and socializing

The District Coworking and Flex Office allows people to pay a monthly fee for dedicated workstations in their downtown Eugene offices.

Another option for remote work has been Eugene’s several coworking offices, where anyone can rent computer desks or private offices while surrounded by other people, allowing for both workspace calm and an opportunity to socialize with others in common areas.

Nicole Klapman, business manager of The District Coworking and Flex Office, said she’s seen the number of regular paying members increase in the five months she’s been here. The clients were a mix of tech industry workers, lawyers and more, she said.

Located above the 5th Street Public Market in a space owned by Brian Obie, who runs the Obie Companies, Klapman said she believes the past few years working from home have led some Eugene residents to want to be around other people while working remotely.

“I’ve definitely seen an increase in people wanting to get out of their home office, be a little more social, and have that option, and still be in a setting where they can focus,” Klapman said.

The cost of renting a computer desk starts at $340 per month, with a private office starting at $620 per month. Customers may also pay an additional cost if they try to run a business out of the office with meeting room time and guest passes.

TeSev Fogel, owner of companies Potted Christmas Trees and iT Landscapes, said he thinks coworking spaces also present themselves as an escape from home distractions.

“It’s like, ‘Don’t work from home, because you have kids, dogs looking at you like they want to walk, fridges and cabinets that need to be looked at,'” Fogel said in the District offices. “They market it like, ‘Come here, don’t be alone with your distractions, come here and be a little social with other people.'”

Nicole Klapman, Business Manager for Obie Companies, stands in the common space for The District Coworking and Flex Office in Eugene.

Louis Krauss covers breaking news for The Register-Guard. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @LouisKraussNews.

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