Studying the brains of fruit flies is not the kind of work that you can easily do from home. You need special microscopes and something called a fly-ball tracker, which neuroscientist Vivek Jayaraman likens to a treadmill. A very tiny treadmill. “We position them on a little ball. The fly walks on the ball. It’s in a virtual reality space,” explains Jayaraman in his lab at the Janelia Research Campus, part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
But access to lab equipment was not the only hurdle — or the biggest one — in the pandemic. Jayaraman says the absence of freewheeling discussions and impromptu chats held back the science over the past year. The migration to telework and virtual meetings stole away the spontaneity that he believes drives their best work.
“It really affected us perhaps more than many institutions,” Jayaraman says.Enlarge this image
Vivek Jayaraman is head of Mechanistic Cognitive Neuroscience at Janelia.Matt Staley/Janelia Research Campus
Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available on demand and infection rates are a small fraction of what they were just a couple months ago, workplaces across the country are taking stock of the what was lost over the past year, and what’s worth bringing back. Many employers, from Google to the federal government, are making hybrid work options permanent, allowing employees to split their time between home and office. But others are eyeing a future that looks much more like the past