Working In Pajamas And The New Office: Some workplace changes are here to stay

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed a lot, and the workplace and its professionals are no exceptions.

Many businesses have adapted — and are now finding that some of the changes meant to safeguard their staffs might also bring diversity and conveniences that could become long-term staples.

Recruiting in 2021

The days of interviewing potential employees face to face may be a thing of the past thanks to online platforms like HireVue and Zoom. Not only is the technology making the hiring process safer, but more efficient and convenient for everyone involved.

Northwest Michigan Works has held several virtual hiring events, according to Business Services Representative Michelle Socha, who helps businesses tap into programs, resources, services and grants to help them navigate through the changing workforce landscape.

Socha said they use the chat-based online platform Brazen, which is hosted through the state, to help employers find talent.

The online recruiting is a sort of “speed dating” for employees and employers. There’s a virtual lobby that job seekers enter. Once in, each job seeker gets 10 minutes with an employer and is given a one-minute warning when time is up.

“If an employer did this outright, it would be thousands of dollars, but because we’re the host they can do it at no cost,” Socha said.

The most recent virtual hiring event “was really pretty successful,” Socca said. “The job seekers like it and so do the employees.”

Socca said the human connection element, like a firm handshake, is lost in the online recruiting, but the virtual event helps alleviate any anxiety that comes along with the in-person hiring process.

“They get nervous sometimes doing the face to face,” she said. “So, it really does engage more of the younger job seekers and Millennials.”

Virtual hiring has also led to a more broad slate of candidates: She recently helped place someone from Ann Arbor in a job based in Traverse City.

“They don’t have to live in Traverse City for certain positions,” she said. “If they’re professional and technical positions, or maybe it’s a hybrid scenario where they only have to come into the office one day a week, they can do that.”

She added that a more diverse staff offers different perspectives and ideas based on their cultures and experiences.

“Across the board, it just really helps,” Socha said. “It makes your bench much deeper.”

Socha, who has also been working from home, said she misses the in-person connection, but believes over time it will return — though online recruiting isn’t going anywhere.

“This is a nice interim solution and it will carry on,” Socha said. “It’s saving employers a ton of money. They’re not having to travel to seminars and webinars and conferences.”

The next event is on Feb. 10, but is already fully booked with 29 employers looking to hire workers.

“We’re starting a waiting list,” said Socha. “Employers can still do job postings on our Pure Michigan talent connect or Indeed or wherever. They can also do their virtual job interviews. We are coaching them as well. And they better put all the company perks forward. They better say flexible work hours and the opportunity to work remotely.”

Working from home

UpNorthLive sports anchor Harrison Beeby has worked from home at times during the pandemic.

As the pandemic took hold, many businesses continued to operate by having their employees work from home. Traverse City native and UpNorthLive sports anchor Harrison Beeby didn’t think it was an option for him, especially since sports — at almost all levels — were put on hold.

“I thought they were going to put me at news anchor,” the sports journalist said.

Instead, his employer let him work from home and dig up sport stories, mostly related to the pandemic.

“At first, I was like, ‘how is this possible?’ I’m so used to doing everything in the office with the office computer, the editing systems and the cameras,” Beeby said. “Everything we use is usually in the office.”

During his 10 years at the television station he had never worked from home on that scale.

“Besides making some phone calls, doing stuff at home was okay because it made things easier before you get into the office,” Beeby said. “But that radically changed in March.”

Working from home has been a rising trend even before the pandemic, with more than 5 million U.S. employees telecommuting at least part time. Since 2005, the number of telecommuting employees increased by more than 173 percent and is expected to keep growing, according to the website Fundera.

For Beeby, the transition included bringing a video camera home, a live-view unit backpack and a laptop.

“I can now do a majority of my job from home,” Beeby said. “But there is still a couple little things I need producer help on even to this day.”

Beeby’s living room has been turned into a makeshift studio — complete with a stool, one studio light, and a flat screen television — where he delivers the sports news.

“The positives of it is that I have my own home office,” Beeby said. “It is nice to go at my own pace. I have a lot more flexibility. I can literally be my own boss and control my schedule during the entire day.”

He was reluctant at first to use the online platform Zoom to conduct interviews, but quickly found the benefits of it.

“I can contact people in Sault St. Marie for a story that normally would take me three hours to drive up there and three hours back,” Beeby said. “Some of the stuff we stumbled upon through this whole process is going to stay because it just makes operating, especially with our large viewing area, a lot easier and accessible.”

Working from home has made the sports journalist think outside of the box more when it comes to his broadcasts. He has even delivered the news from a kayak in his basement, pole vaulted over his couch and bowled with V8 cans.

“I took it as a challenge,” Beeby said. “I don’t have a bookcase like Adam Schefter [of ESPN] or some fantastic artwork. I really wanted to make people interested in what I was doing while on camera at my house. I’ve never seen anywhere near the response to my work that I had when I was working from home trying to do something different every night.”

The new office

Today’s workspaces are getting a serious makeover in the wake of the pandemic, with employers tasked with making the office safer, while telecommuters want more comfort at home.

Barbara Church, a sales executive for Trellis, demonstrates how flat screen monitor arms work.

Barbara Church is a sales executive with an extensive background in design at Trellis, an office furniture dealer in Traverse City, with clients ranging from hospitals to home offices. Lately she’s been selling a lot of ergonomic chairs, height adjustable desks, and flat screen monitor arms.

Trellis has been offering clients retooled workspaces with stacked panels or plexiglass to add height and create barriers.

“We’ve also done movable dividers between people, so that there is a little bit of division, so that they have a sense of space,” Church said.

So are cubicles having a comeback?

“I don’t think they’ll totally go away, they might go up a little bit more and provide a little bit more privacy and more distance between people,” Church said.

The company also sells hand sanitizer stations.

“People are looking at this in preparation for when people come back to the office, and also when they can’t work from home,” Church said.

Having proper furniture is essential, not only does it help workers feel better physically, but productivity will increase, Church said.

“The ergonomics is so important, even getting a chair that gives you the lumbar support,” she said. “If you’re on a laptop, you’ve got to be careful, because you don’t want to be turtling over your desktop.”

Aside from selling furniture, Church has consulted several clients on how to best utilize their floor space, while respecting social distancing norms.

“We’ve gone through and shown them how they should populate the floor plate like every other workstation,” she said.

Herman Miller, a Michigan furniture maker that specializes in ergonomics, is Trellis’ main product line. As more and more people choose to telecommute, Church said she wouldn’t be surprised to see the company roll out other office furniture options to meet demand.

“I know there’s a lot of different articles on what it’s going to look like when we all go back, but we are just working through it,” Church said. “Herman Miller does a ton of research for their products, like how people work and how they’re going to work in the future. They’re a great resource.”

The company has made their office furniture more accessible and easier to install at home, which has its appeal for telecommuters who don’t want to spend time or have the knowledge to erect a piece of furniture.

“The environment changes with the business, and now it’s changing with the pandemic,” Church said.  “We have to be flexible whether we’re doing an office environment, health care, higher education and now the home office.”