First, experiment with “core hours.” This practice has been in place for decades but invisibly, and now it has emerged center stage. Dropbox, Slack, and other companies have set times–say, between 10 am and 2 pm or 1 pm and 4 pm, when everyone has to be online and available for Zoom, project meetings, and other forms of collaboration. All other times are meeting-free zones.
Yes, of course, take time zones into account; you might even have different “core hours” different days of the week and different durations of those core times. Season to taste. They key is that the firm and lawyers and staff all achieve predictability within an autonomous and flexible framework.
Second, if you land on a fixed ‘expectation” of more than zero but fewer than five days/week in the office, do not make a required day Friday. Just don’t .
Third, face the reality that Covid is here to stay. As the Rector of Trinity Church/Wall Street wrote more poetically a year ago: “Beloved, we are in this for the long run.”
Covid is migrating from pandemic to endemic. That means only long-term, sustainable, minimally intrusive policies and practices are feasible–and that we have to get past our on-again, off-again spasms of panic and complacency with their changeable and sometimes arbitrary strictures. (Masks? Everywhere all the time? Some places for some people? Nowhere and for no one?)
There is one and only one way to get there. So:
Most important by far, require fully-vaccinated status for anyone (lawyers, staff, clients) who wishes to visit your office. Clifford Chance and (yes) Morgan Stanley have both announced such policies. Hospital systems, universities, major public venues, and–shock–the country of France are moving in this direction.
Why is this important? Because vaccines work. If we care about saving lives and avoiding human suffering, there is no substitute. The fact that they’re free, universally available (in the First World), and infinitely safer than getting Covid are extra benefits. Masks, social distancing, Lady Macbeth-handwashing: All are useful but palliative, and they were stopgap measures when we had no better tools. Now we do.
Testing, you ask? Experience has taught us that testing is tiresome, costly, error-prone, a damned nuisance, and doesn’t answer the key question: Is this person going to get seriously ill, end up in the hospital, or end up dead? And if someone does test positive–someone will–now what? “Everybody out of the pool!!”? That way lies insanity, if not insolvency.
A word on “breakthrough” Covid–cases in fully vaccinated people. Our first generation of mRNA vaccines is magically, almost unbelievably, effective: But they are not, as Dr. Anthony Fauci reminded us last week, “invincible.” Yes, Covid can again attack, no matter what–at this stage. The question is not whether they’ve achieved perfection in a world of 3-billion+ vaccinated human beings, but what protection they offer: That’s where they show their strength.
Human beings get sick; what matters is how sick they get and if they’re like to die.
The data showing how effective vaccines are on this score is ubiquitous, and a “graphic” example is a map of the US showing hospitalizations and deaths correlated with those who hadn’t been vaccinated. “We have a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” to coin a phrase.
Here’s my favorite chart on this, from the fertile editors at Marginal Revolution:
This shows cases vs deaths over the first 50 days of the UK’s second wave (starting in August 2020–no vaccines yet available) vs. its third wave (starting in May 2021–vaccines available for months beforehand):
As a mentor once said, “Numbers don’t have opinions.”
To the extent your firm can move the needle on vaccinations, even slightly and in your own backyard, why would you not do this? You have only your lawyers, staff, and clients to lose. And then get back to work.