Back to work transition not likely to happen quickly


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Starting Monday, employees in every industry will be allowed to return to in-person work in Michigan. Although businesses had to transition to remote work very quickly when the pandemic started, getting back in person will likely be a different story.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be happy about this transition, but it won’t be like a light switch. It’s going to be a transition that I think a lot of businesses are going to take it slowly and kind of easing back into the office,” said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. 

He says that transition will look different for each business and employee. 

“We have been advising our members to, to have conversations directly with employee,” Calley explained. “Don’t try to figure out how to solve all of the issues and the concerns on your own and then present it to the employees. Instead, engage employees, be really intentional about opening that discussion, understanding what the concerns, fears, and challenges, obstacles, hurdles are.”

Just as the pandemic has changed many other aspects of everyday life, Calley believes that also goes for the workplace.

At Consumers Energy, about half of the company’s 8,500 employees have been working remotely since the pandemic started because there are a lot of jobs that require that in-person service.

Company spokesperson Brian Wheeler says they are planning to hold off on bringing remote workers back to the office until their original target of July.

“As people return to the office, our first priority really is their safety. We’re going to be focusing on cleaning out those offices really well, putting in new protocols and making sure we have a safe and healthy work environment,” Wheeler said. 

Beyond working to create a safe and comfortable workplace, the company is also offering more flexibility. 

“We have really seen for the last year, year and a half now that the remote workplace is a sustainable and viable approach and for many cases, people actually benefit because they have that flexibility to be working at home or from a remote location. So, anyone who is a remote worker right now, those people are getting the option whether they want to return in-person, whether they want to stay remotely, or doing some sort of hybrid.”

That broader acceptance of remote work is just one of the many lasting impacts of the pandemic, but many feel this first step is key to moving forward.

“This is a big start. It signals really in a lot of ways, the end of the pandemic which hopefully is in view from here, although we’ve got a lot of steps between now and then but it also for many industries, it’s the first step in the beginning of their recovery,” Calley said. 

State workers will also be holding off on going back to the office. Leaders with the Office of State Employment say they’ll will return to an in-person schedule in July.

As of May 18, 56.5% of people 16 and older in Michigan have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Under the governor’s benchmarks, the next milestone of 60% would lift the curfew on restaurants and bars, allow sports stadiums, conference centers, banquet halls and funeral homes to increase capacity to 25%, and allow exercise facilities and gyms to increase capacity to 50%. Those changes would take effect two weeks after the state hits the 60% benchmark. 

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