Kandiss Ecton, left, Carla Walker-Miller, center, and Pierre Batton
Michigan, for the most part, has been back to work, in person, officially since May when 55% of Michiganders received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Through Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s first milestone of the MI Vacc to Normal plan, in-person work resumed across all employment sectors on May 24 after being put on hold in November when COVID-19 cases were on the rise.
Now, in addition to the Delta variant, the recently introduced new Mu variant 12:14 (known as lineage B.1.621 as one of the SARS-CoV-2 variants) and other safety concerns, what should employees back at work know about safety protocols on the job, especially as Michigan grapples with over 960,000 total confirmed cases, over 20,000 total COVID-19 deaths, and over 6,300 daily confirmed cases with 29 daily deaths as of press time?
Working in person while on the job in Michigan means getting creative about workplace protocols at all levels.
“As we continue to get Michigan back to work, our priority remains keeping workplaces safe for employees and protecting customers as they support these businesses,” said Whitmer. “With our state at full capacity, we can boost our economic jumpstart and ensure businesses can emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever while keeping their workers safe.”
Dialing back workplace rules for non-healthcare settings allows employers to use their best judgment in determining whether to maintain:
- Daily health screenings
- Face covering requirements, and
- Social distancing requirements.
For Kandiss Ecton, a metro Detroit-based insurance agent and owner of Kandiss Ecton-State Farm Insurance, staying safe at work means adapting to more non-traditional work environments like many others.
Meeting the Customer Where They Are
“With the client in mind and wanting to make the process easy for them, we had to create alternative ways to work which included not only electronic communication but returning to the more traditional ways of working and communicating,” Ecton told the Michigan Chronicle. “For some of our elderly clients, that included mailing documents that clients would normally come into the office to sign. Once they received the documents, we would speak with them over the phone and walk them through where to sign, or they would come to our office and we would meet them in the parking lot, at their vehicle, with our masks.”
From virtual appointments through a secure video conferencing tool to masking up and having a fully vaccinated staff, she said ensuring everyone’s safety was at the forefront for her colleagues.
“We take full precautionary measures inside the office, including daily temperature checks and maintaining social distancing,” she said, adding that the new way of working does not come without work-related challenges. “There are some clients who do not want to follow the rules and insist on entering the office without a mask. That is when we offer them alternatives such as our State Farm Good Neighbor Connect virtual conferencing option, a traditional phone appointment, email or text communication. It’s safety first for staff and for our clients.”
What it Takes to Keep Operations Going
Pierre Batton, vice president, Small Business Services, at the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) and Detroit Means Business (DMB) president, has been in the trenches with his colleagues, and other businesses he assists, especially since March 2020 when the world was turned upside down.
DMB was formed in response to COVID-19 and carved out a plan throughout the business disruption providing much-needed guidance for local establishments in desperate need of assistance. Housed under the DEGC, DMB was developed in partnership with a wide range of government, business, nonprofit and philanthropic partners to help small businesses in Detroit safely and successfully reopen last year.
Batton said that while the demand has slowed for personal protective equipment, it is also picking back up as cases have fluctuated over the past year and a half. This fluctuation calls for proactive solutions and he’s been at the helm of coming up with those solutions.
“The need we were hearing [about] from our small businesses was on the decline until the Delta variant came forward this summer,” Batton said, adding that the businesses, in response, remained steadfast in ensuring that they operated in a safe manner for their employees and patrons. “We’re seeing a lot of interest now again [for] masks specifically – less on gloves and hand sanitizers.”
Batton said that in the last year when the DEGC awarded $15 million in grant funding to a little over 2,000 Detroit businesses he saw how the funds helped struggling businesses reopen safely for all.
“Our organization responds in many ways,” he said, adding that it was also important to not “recreate the wheel” in terms of safety and protocol. “I think there are some incredible responses to it, and I think as a smaller organization we have always taken the stance of just that what works let’s continue forth with — that sometimes the most innovative solution is the most common solution.”
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Carla Walker-Miller, the founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services, said her energy service company, in addition to prioritizing safety and health, is tapping into a much-needed component during the COVID-19 crisis.
“What we’re doing is leaning into our humanity to help support people who have been impacted by COVID,” Walker-Miller said. “So many people in our company lost loved ones and [are] recovering from COVID.”
She said on top of all the PPE and standard rules and regulations as it relates to keeping the virus at bay, she said the company now institutes a moment of silence at all of the meetings, in addition to new medical benefits.
“We are actually inviting a doctor to come in and talk to our entire team about vaccinations and we’re going to be offering vaccinations to everyone in the company on-site,” she said of employees who are looking to get it done while at work.
She added that her company makes it a priority to ensure the safety of around 90 Michigan-based staff.
“We are always deferring to safety, and we are going to be working with … the people that have office jobs in my company,” she said, adding that the company is working remotely for the foreseeable future. “We are just very aggressive in safety measures [especially] for people who are still a part of our customer service field team.”
The Way Forward
The Skillman Foundation CEO Angelique Power, who began her position in September, said that COVID-19 protocols have allowed the organization to rethink the future of office work.
“In 2019 there was a belief that you need to have bodies in seats physically,” she said, adding that “2020 proved us wrong.”
Power said that 2020 and 2021 won’t look like 2022.
“Our challenge at the Skillman [is to] take a creative experimental approach,” she said of blending working in the office and virtually.
Skillman decided to send surveys to staff to find out their preferences, especially with the Delta variant and different mindsets around the vaccine.
Preferences involve creating a hybrid model with new technologies to make virtual, and in-person, meetings more interactive, which involves cameras or multi-cameras that pivot as people talk.
“That way we incorporate everybody in the space into conversations,” she said. “We will continue to reevaluate how this works for the community, Skillman and individuals.”
“What is important is to acknowledge none of us know the correct path forward and collectively not knowing and experimenting can lead to an evolution of how we office,” Power said.
Employers and employees with questions regarding workplace safety and health may contact MIOSHA using the COVID-19 hotline at 855-SAFE-C19 (855-723-3219).
Contact Staff Writer Sherri Kolade with story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.