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Workplace 2.0

It will likely take some time before we fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business community across the Greater Lansing area.

A few businesses will manage to come back strong. Some will mark their rebound in staggered stages. Still others will be too financially devastated to make a return at all. Undoubtedly, though, those that manage to resume will find that the new business of business is anything but business as usual.

“On June 1, this is something where we’re not going to be able to push a button and go back to March 1, said Tim Daman, president and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. “I think we’re going to have to adapt as employers, and I’m not exactly sure how that is going to look.”

Personal protective equipment, taking temperatures and hand-sanitizing stations may be the norm as employers determine how to implement such safeguards for workers as well as customers moving forward, Daman said, adding that there will continue to be a reliance on the skills and advice of health care professionals as the region moves through summer and fall.

“I know I will be very careful in trying to predict what that might look like,” he said. “I think we’re going to learn a number of things from this.”

Michigan Retailers Association President and CEO Bill Hallan said his Lansing-based organization is working round the clock to share information with members on how to comply with changing federal, state and local requirements and reopen safely.

“These practices are likely here to stay for a while because, even if Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer relaxes operational requirements for retailers, customers may still be apprehensive and request certain safeguards,” Hallan said. “Michigan Retailers Association has been working diligently to assure Governor Whitmer and Michigan residents that retailers are adaptable and are ready to implement various safety procedures to get back to work and get consumers back into their stores.”

Helping people get back to work will be different than it was during the recession from 2008-2010, said Lisa Dunsford, CEO of the Michigan Works Association, the Lansing advocacy and training organization for the 16 independent regional Michigan Works branches across the state.

Some businesses may not return or come back with a full staff, which is why having independent Michigan Works sites is crucial to tailoring services to a specific region’s economy and talent pool. The state had a skills gap before the pandemic and will continue to have one as it reopens, she said.

“We don’t have a full understanding of what this might mean to some of these businesses,” Dunsford said. “What is critical is that Michigan Works will be there in communities to meet the demands that are presented.

“The need for training people, and the need for supporting the people who are being trained, is going to be absolutely critical. Customization at the local level is really going to be what moves us forward,” she said.

Michigan Works branches remained closed as part of the stay-at-home order, but they still provided services remotely to give people access to needed information and guidance. That type of ingenuity and determination will be important as Michigan begins righting the ship on the state’s economic outlook, Dunsford said. It will be a difficult but not insurmountable task, she added.

“Where there are challenges, there are opportunities,” Dunsford said.

An Evolving Business Approach

The coronavirus pandemic forced many businesses’ hands when it came to learning to adapt in order to survive. Some of those new tricks learned by old dogs may become status quo.

Tim Daman, president and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the implementation of Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings was something the chamber had considered for some time. The pandemic made it a jumping off point.

“Certainly the technology has been around for a number of years, but it’s been interesting learning how to use it to manage a remote workforce,” Daman said.

Yet the importance of human interaction cannot be understated, he added. Even when working remotely, it remains vital to keep in daily contact both for information as well as mental health purposes.

“I think that’s something that’s been a struggle for a lot of people,” Daman said.