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President’s Letter

BUSINESS RESPONSE TO COVID WILL IMPACT ECONOMY FOR YEARS 

When COVID-19 became a reality for Americans in March 2020, nobody, including most public health officials, expected the crisis to last as long as it has. In fact, when the Chamber moved to remote work almost two years ago, I distinctly remember telling the team: “Buckle up, we could be working from home for weeks.”  If only that were true. 

COVID-19 is turning out to be a defining element of our time – much like political polarization, climate change, and the influence of social media. In recognition of the significant impact COVID-19 has brought to our society – as individuals and employers – the Detroit Regional Chamber made this a topic of the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference and helping the business community anticipate and adapt to the new post-pandemic workplace environment was made a Conference “To-Do List” item.  This issue of the Detroiter is part of our commitment to fulfilling this work. 

IN-OFFICE, REMOTE, HYBRID? 

One of the most pressing issues employers face is how, when or if to bring employees back into office settings. While many workplaces lack this option – technology has yet to advance to the point where a vehicle can be assembled or a meal prepared and delivered from a couch in your home – employers are faced with no-win scenarios.   

Employees want to know “what the schedule is” for return to the office, but if we have learned anything during the pandemic, it is that nobody knows what’s around the corner. Setting timelines with certainty is impossible and employers often have to constantly adjust and adapt their plans. The Chamber encourages companies to be up upfront with employees on this point. 

Firms also face the grim reality that businesses interests and employee interests diverge regarding back-to-office issues. Many businesses, while successful during these past two years of remote work, are beginning to see declines in productivity, team cohesion and even quality – yet 83% of workers want a hybrid work environment (Accenture, 2021). 

WAR FOR TALENT 

As Peter Quigley, CEO of Kelly, notes “the war for talent is over – talent won.” Even before the pandemic, there was a shortage of labor to fill business demand. COVID-19 has exacerbated this shortage. There is hardly an industry, skill set or wage level that is not experiencing a critical shortage of talent. Record numbers of women have left the workforce, the number of retirements spiked, and frontline workers – far more exposed to health risks than others – are demanding better pay and working conditions or have found ways to change professions or leave the workforce entirely. While the net result is a more lucrative labor market for many, it is also driving increased disparities for people of color and women.   

If these new labor dynamics are permanent or just a COVID-19 phenomenon is still unknown. Regardless, this has forced employers to pay more, alter their hiring criteria, double down on process efficiencies, and accelerate investments in labor-replacing technology. Regardless if COVID-19 lasts another six weeks or six months, the response of the business community today will have far-reaching consequences for our economy for years to come.  

Like COVID-19 itself, the dynamics of how the pandemic impacts our personal and professional lives will continue to unfold and undoubtedly take unexpected turns. The Detroit Regional Chamber is committed to monitoring these businesses issues, seeking counsel from the stable of experts we have access to – and sharing what we learn with our membership.