How Katy-area business leaders will handle returning to the office

After about seven weeks of social distancing, some Katy residents are heading back to work.

Community Impact Newspaper asked local real estate, insurance and law firm offices how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their office work and how they plan to bring employees back.

Tim Sojka, co-founder and CEO of See Tim Sell Property Group, said his office had no layoffs, and the business held up pretty well despite the unprecedented disruption.

Although real estate is considered an essential business, Sojka said he did not require any office staff to go in to work since the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, employees adapted Zoom and Skype as the primary form of communication.

“I told my team, ‘You have to do what you think is best for your family. Our office is open, and if you want to come in, you can. If you want to stay home, you can.’ For the next month or two, that’s not going to change for me,” Sojka said.

Sojka said he predicts more people to start heading back to the office now that restrictions are easing up, but there might be some legal challenges with telling people they have to come in.

As of May 1, See Tim Sell Property Group does not have specific guidelines for when there are more employees in the office, but Sojka said separating desks to keep social distancing is an option to consider.

“Most of us don’t want to make health decisions for other people, and if people right now feel safer to work from home, I want them to do it,” Sojka said.

Some real estate agents have started to shift more into having more of the job be done online, but without the physical and personal contact of real estate, the industry could be replaced by technology in the future.

“Realtors have to realize how much of that they want to give up,” Sokja said. “I think we offer a lot of value to the biggest transaction of someone’s life.”

The Law Office of Cynthia Guerra, which handles criminal law, personal injury, family law and immigration cases, is also part of the essential industries open during the quarantine period.

Guerra said she continued to work from her office alongside one personal assistant, while other employees worked from home, and they stayed in touch via Zoom.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, there were not a lot of inquiry calls in the family law department, Guerra said.

“Sometimes, people get fearful to separate because they at least know where they stand right now, but after they realized we are going to survive this, they started calling,” she said.

She added that as far as office culture is concerned, things will not change much at her firm.

“We are constantly trying to sanitize, and we’ve got clients who are more fearful and very cautious and others that throw caution [to] the wind, and we are the ones who are having to back up and not shake hands and all that kind of stuff,” Guerra said.

Some people will prefer to return to the office, Guerra said, because it offers more structure. She added that she predicts working remotely will become more popular, but some people will have to do it out of necessity until child care is available.

Other offices in the area, such as Katy Insurance, located in downtown Katy, were not affected by the pandemic.

“We actually never closed,” said Cinthia Castillo, a customer service employee at Katy Insurance. “This has actually been our busiest time, so we weren’t really affected. Everyone continued to come to the office. We had a lot of people who were already prepared with face masks and sanitizer, so we didn’t really have to tell them anything.”

By Nola Valente
A native Texan, Nola serves as reporter for the Katy edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She studied print journalism at the University of Houston and French at the University of Paris-Sorbonne in France. Nola was previously a foreign correspondent in Jerusalem, Israel covering Middle East news through an internship with an American news outlet.


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