Working in the Pandemic – How we Moved the Entire Work Force from the Office to the Home

When the pandemic hit, many businesses closed down and others rushed to set up a workfrom- home infrastructure. We count ourselves fortunate that 811 was considered an essential service so we were able to continue operations alongside the many stakeholders in our industry that continued to go to work every day. We recognize that the business of damage prevention is a big deal. The role we play in the shared responsibility of safety and damage prevention is critical and we were determined to continue service uninterrupted as we moved our work force of over 200 people to work from home. Here are some of the things that have helped us along the way.

We made the move almost overnight, though it was really years in the making. Prior to COVID-19, we already had about 40% of our staff (mainly frontline agents) working from home. It is a part of our business continuity plan and it helps keep overhead cost down. Having done this for some time, it made the transition much easier. The IT infrastructure, software applications, and established management processes allowed for a seamless transition and uninterrupted service.

A few of the items that helped us make this move included an established VPN (virtual private network), IP-based phone system, direct access for managing remote workstations and devices, and web-based contact center software. Having these in place were vital in ensuring our success. Additionally, we have an IT staff that is practiced in providing support in a remote environment.

We also had software that enabled collaboration and connectedness: Microsoft Teams and Yammer (Yammer is a Microsoft product used by companies as a social networking tool to connect and engage across an organization). We are able to provide continuous education opportunities to our employees through LinkedIn Learning and an internal Learning Management System, and we have “office hours” where leadership works with a web cam on and people can “drop in” to chat.

The last key element in being able to pull this off is an established management process. Many of our managers have years of experience managing a work-at-home force. Managers have regular one-on-one meetings with their direct reports using web cams to ensure everyone maintains a personal connection and to avoid miscommunication. We hold regular virtual town hall meetings to communicate to the entire company.

We have clear KPIs and metrics in place so employees and managers know what is expected and can easily measure whether targets are being met. Lastly, well defined functional accountabilities make everyone’s job easier. So far, it seems to be working for us operationally, technologically, and financially. It remains to be seen if we can sustain this over a long period of time. For about 40% of our staff, working from home has been a way of life for years. They are accustomed to the requirements and discipline needed to be successful.

For the other 60% this is new territory. I have seen many reports across the United States in many different industries and different jobs where the mental health of remote workers is on the decline. Losing the connection with fellow co-workers, missing out on in-person collaboration, and not having a clearly designated and separate space to work every day is taking its toll. We will be paying very close attention to the well-being of our staff over the next few months and we are working on providing resources to help them in this new normal. We will report back on this effort in Part 2 of this article. Until then, stay safe.

Chris Stovall is President & CEO of Texas 811. Alex Matway is his Executive Assistant. They can be reached at alexmatway@texas811.org.

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