Back in mid-March, the emerging health threat of the coronavirus pandemic forced almost our entire workforce to pivot instantly from a traditional office-based setup to working at home full time.
Within one week (in most cases), we quickly transitioned more than 700 members of the Southwestern Health Resources (SWHR) team to a remote work setting. SWHR leadership had made the swift and decisive move to send employees home once the seriousness of the virus became apparent.
On little notice, employees took home their equipment and set it up themselves with 24/7 support from our service desk, along with tech tips posted on the SWHR intranet and published in our employee newsletter.
Now, based on recent trends and safety concerns here in North Texas and across the nation, our leadership team has decided to keep our employees working at home through the end of 2020. Beyond that, we also are looking at teams and individuals who are well suited to transition permanently — from the temporary or occasional “work from home” to the more permanent “office at home.” The model we have in place will support them as long as needed. We will iterate as needed, however, adjusting our level of support and equipment if necessary.
Supporting a successful, productive SWHR team
Reflecting on the past several months, I cannot overstate the willingness and flexibility of our team to help ensure that SWHR continues to be successful no matter the circumstances. Everyone has been understanding and patient as we ramped up our capabilities to move forward in this new normal. The challenge ahead will be to maintain a sense of connection among us as remote workers for the foreseeable future — and identifying technology that will enhance our culture of dedication and innovation as we work remotely.
The challenge ahead will be to maintain a sense of connection among us as remote workers for the foreseeable future — and identifying technology that will enhance our culture of dedication and innovation as we work remotely.
All the credit for this overwhelmingly successful transition goes to our IT partners at UT Southwestern. Without them, we would not be in the position we’re in today, with our productivity remaining high and our teammates across the organization thriving, despite the sudden changes we experienced in the initial days of COVID-19 and the challenges that continue to crop up.
Our IT infrastructure team has gone above and beyond to meet organizational needs. Their efforts to keep us working productively from home are numerous:
- We ship equipment to new hires at their homes and provide replacement equipment to existing employees when technical problems cannot be fixed remotely. Earlier during the pandemic, we faced some challenges procuring certain equipment (e.g., headsets) due to the nationwide demand, but supplies are now more readily available.
- We adhere to strict guidelines in order to protect health information, and we educate our SWHR colleagues on best practices in this essential area.
- With an overall increase in teleworking, U.S. internet providers have enhanced their infrastructure capabilities to handle increased demand. We provide additional support to our employees by monitoring our internal infrastructure and adjusting as needed to maintain optimum internet connections.
- At times, some members of our team have had trouble with their connections, logging in or weak Wi-Fi. Some issues were resolved by ensuring that their home routers or modems were up to date.
- Our team prioritizes employee IT troubleshooting requests, and we ensure prompt resolution. During our initial transition to telework, we were receiving more than 40 troubleshooting tickets a day. By June, we were receiving fewer than 15 per day. Over time, simple infrastructure issues have diminished, and our more recent requests have been mostly system-related, such as adding a user or upgrading access.
What will our future workplace look like?
When we do return to a group work setting, SWHR will continue to be on the leading edge for communication and interaction. Our future office setup will be a combination of safe collaborative areas and productive workspaces, all with the ability to seamlessly integrate on-site and off-site work. We also are exploring new videoconferencing solutions to help optimize our virtual meetings.
Thanks to the efforts of our IT team, SWHR employees have been productive at home and will continue to be until it’s safe for us to work on site in our offices again.
Brian Coffey, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President and Chief Data Insight and Innovation Officer for Southwestern Health Resources.