iCarol is your help line software company that is here to make your job easier as Executive Director or leader of a non-profit contact center. Whether you have a crisis, help or 211 referral line, we are here to help you help more people in your community. Read more...
Working remotely, often synonymous with the phrase “working from home,” has become the norm as technology advances and becomes more accessible, and the availability of online or cloud services expand. While some managers and companies remain skeptical of the benefits of remote work, numerous studies have found that many of the common fears—that employees won’t be productive or can’t be trusted to do the job correctly, or at all, when not in the office—are mostly unfounded. According to information gathered by Gallup, as of 2016, 43% of employees worked remotely in some capacity, and this flexibility leads to more engaged employees, which can improve everything from productivity, profitability, and employee retention.1 A Stanford University study 2 of call center workers found home-work resulted in a 13% performance increase, people took fewer breaks and sick days, and 4% more calls per minute handled thanks in part to a quieter and more convenient working environment. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction, and their attrition rate was cut in half.
Not only is remote work increasing in normal, everyday circumstances, but it can become a downright essential alternative in times of emergency like natural or man-made disasters, or during health emergencies or pandemic like we are seeing right now with novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 where people are encouraged or mandated to quarantine or socially distance themselves from one another. Now, more than ever, it’s time to research and plan for the option of remote work as either a temporary or permanent option for your workforce.
How do you get started with having your employees or volunteers working remotely if this is not a current part of your operations? Your remote work plan will be more successful if you spend time on the front-end planning. Here are some ideas:
Write a Remote Work Policy
A remote work policy does not have to cover every single aspect of working from home, but it should outline when and how employees can work outside the office, who is eligible, and any particular protocols to be aware of. It can also cover whether or not the practice is temporary or permanent, legal rights, and other Human Resources specific rules and regulations. There are many templates and examples online that will give you a starting point to work from. Start with any professional listservs, email forums, or other groups that you subscribe or belong to.
Be sure that any remote worker has read your policy, and understands what is expected of them when working from home. Clearly explain what they are to do, and how they should do it. If their work will be evaluated in a specific way related to remote work, explain this to them so they can be clear on what is expected. Also communicate clearly how they can obtain support or guidance from supervisors in the event they need assistance.
Remote workers might need to access sensitive information to complete their work, so think about their home office setting and the digital security they’ll have in place. Will they be using a personal computer, or one from the office? What types of security applications must they have installed, and what protections does their home network and internet connection provide? Consider consulting with the IT professionals at your workplace and ask for their recommendations.
Provide Support and Supervision
While working remotely has many benefits, one downside sometimes reported by remote workers is a feeling of isolation or missing workplace camaraderie. It’s important to make your remote workers feel as connected as possible to each other and the activities of the organization, and provide them with ample supervision or other supports. Remote workers will still need to be evaluated, have quality performance checks, and be able to easily reach a supervisor for guidance in a given situation. This is not only important for their own effectiveness as an employee, but for the quality of your overall service delivery to the people who contact you.
Run a Pilot Program
A good test run can make any new initiative run more smoothly. If you are looking at adding remote work options to your organization, consider running a pilot program first. A pilot of your remote work plan could involve just a few select workers to start, and be limited to a set period of time to test the plan. Have workers follow the policy, and document what worked for them, and what didn’t. Likewise, from a managerial standpoint you can track what elements you found successful, along with which aspects were unsuccessful and why. Conduct quality assurance measures and evaluate documentation or Live Chat/SMS Transcripts to ensure contacts were handled properly. Analyze sign on logs to check that workers were signed in when they were supposed to be. Based on your findings, you might adjust your policy, make changes and run a new pilot, or use your results to launch your remote work program to more employees and/or for extended periods. Of course, it’s possible that the findings from your pilot may help you determine that remote work isn’t a possibility for your agency at this time.
Choose Technology to Support Remote Workers
All of this careful planning will be worthwhile once you launch your remote work program and start to see the benefits it brings. However, one of the biggest pieces of your preparation plan is making sure you have the tools–more precisely, technology–in place to execute your plan effectively. Processes based in paper and physical files, or in desktop applications that aren’t cloud-based, are very hard to duplicate remotely. How will workers accept and document contacts from their home? How will you provide supervision and coaching when your employee is 20 or more miles away and not at the cubicle next to yours? How will you monitor their work and ensure they are completing their assigned tasks?
If you are not currently set up with technology to make your remote work program a success, it’s not too late to get started. In Part 2 of this blog series, we share information about how the tools and features of iCarol not only enable remote work, but enhance your service delivery, improve workforce connectivity, reduce employee attrition, and more.
We have been closely watching the developments around the novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic. In these and other difficult times, our primary focus always turns to our customers and the people and communities they serve, as well as the health and well-being of our employees.
Many of our customers are playing a direct and active role in the response to COVID-19 by providing emotional support, reassurance, and reliable information and referral, and working directly with their state/provincial and local governments to collect data and rapidly disseminate new information of service to the public.
We want to do all we can to support them in their efforts, and so we have taken the following steps:
Offer 30 days of free Contact Record or Resource Database sharing tools in iCarol, to help our customers with their collaborations, continuity of operations, or coordinated data collection and reporting.
Apply an ad hoc Taxonomy update to iCarol that includes new terms related to COVID-19.
Provide prompt response to all customer requests related to COVID-19, such as assistance with editing Contact Forms, adding new tools, or making system settings changes.
Monitor system performance and volume, and add additional resources within our Microsoft Azure infrastructure to scale and increase capacity as necessary.
Listen and engage with key industry organizations to be sure we are prepared for and responsive to our customers’ needs as the situation continues to evolve.
We understand that many of our customers are transitioning their volunteers and staff to a remote work model to maintain continuity of operations while reducing human presence within the contact center. For many, this model is unfamiliar and one sometimes met with apprehension. Being a web-based solution, iCarol provides many tools and features that can make this transition easier. The iCarol functionality needed to carry out their work can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, while managers can still exercise supervision and ultimate control over volunteer/staff permissions and system access. On our blog, we will share more detailed tips and guidance on how our customers can use iCarol remotely, which will help keep their people and communities safer.
Of course, the safety of members of the iCarol family, customers and employees alike, is at the forefront of our minds. iCarol has activated our own business continuity plan, which specifically calls out provisions in the case of a pandemic. Most of the iCarol team already works remotely, and nearly all of our interaction with customers is through email, live chat, online meetings, or phone calls, which limits the risk of exposing ourselves or our customers to the spread of the virus. Our small number of team members who usually work in an office setting have been working from home and will continue to do so until it is safe to return to the office. There has also been significant cross-training between the iCarol and CityView technology/development teams which expands the amount of human resources available to quickly respond to technology or infrastructure needs.
Our parent company, Harris Computer Systems, has provided excellent leadership throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, and feels that we must all do our part as responsible citizens to enhance the safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work. Any in-person internal meetings are being reconsidered and either postponed or converted to virtual events, and all business travel is being evaluated and cancelled or postponed as needed. Harris Computer encourages all its employees to follow the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
Our customers always display an unwavering commitment to their communities, and they are courageously upholding these values even in the midst of these unprecedented events. We are inspired by their actions, and honored to serve them however we can. Should you have any questions on how iCarol can assist or support your organization in response to COVID-19, please contact us.
The following iCarol resources may be helpful to you as you research, plan, and act during an emergency:
Data Exporting, Sharing, and Integrations Options in iCarol
Like many of you, we are closely watching developments related to novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, while cases emerge around the world and concerns about the virus intensify.
We recognize that many of our customer organizations have a critical role to play when incidents like these arise. Because of their earned reputations as trustworthy sources of information and support, local helplines and contact centers are often relied upon to engage with their communities and provide reassurance, emotional support, reliable information, and referrals to resources.
Based on our experiences working with our customers during past natural and manmade disasters, you may consider some of the following actions for your organization:
Keep relevant, accurate information readily available to give out to your clients as needed. The best sources of information at this time are:
Review your own internal disaster/emergency incident policies and procedures to maintain continuity of operations.
Familiarize yourself with your local and state agencies that may provide direct services and assistance, such as local Departments of Health and Human Services, and ensure that referral database information is up-to-date for these agencies.
Network with your contacts at the aforementioned agencies to remind them of the services you provide and request that your organization be kept abreast of any developments or actions they plan to take, so you can assist in their efforts to inform the public.
Consider what data collection elements should be added to your iCarol Contact Form so that any contacts about Coronavirus can be tracked and documented in case you are asked to report on this information.
Enable client self-service by including information about your agency’s role, as well as links to official sources of information, on your organization’s website and social media presence.
Direct callers to the right extension or audio message containing Coronavirus information by setting up an option in your IVR/Phone tree within your phone system.
iCarol is here to help you with any initiatives you might become engaged in related to Coronavirus, so that you can respond to your community’s needs quickly and efficiently. Options like:
Sharing your database of resource information with partner
Sharing Contact Forms within your network
Providing after-hours or collaborative Call/Chat/SMS response or reporting
and many other partnership options and integrations are readily available.
As community service, iCarol can turn on Contact Record and Resource Database sharing for up to 30 days during a qualified event for no additional cost.
Potential use cases for these kinds of partnerships are:
Several contact centers within a state or region need to share a single Resource Database, or view one another’s databases, so they can provide seamless referrals regardless of where in the network the client contacting them is located.
Collaborators share Contact Forms so they can all collect consistent data related to the disaster or event, and complete consolidated reporting.
When one center must shutdown services at their location and transfer their calls to a partner, their partner can access their Contact Form and Resource Database, to be sure they can fully function as that closed center’s backup until the center can reopen and resume services to their community.
The following iCarol resources may be helpful to you as you research and plan partnerships during an emergency:
Data Exporting, Sharing, and Integrations Options in iCarol
We want to take this opportunity to thank our customers for all their current and future efforts in responding to Coronavirus/ COVID-19. Your dedication to the health and wellbeing of your communities is remarkable and does not go unnoticed by us. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the iCarol Team should you have questions about using your iCarol system to respond to this incident, or need help enabling partnerships and integrations, and we will be happy to assist you.
Samaritans of FR/NB, Inc. is a suicide prevention hotline open to all callers, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and is available free to anyone who needs support. It is staffed by caring, compassionate and confidential volunteers specially trained in listening, crisis management and suicide prevention. More than 18,000 calls are answered at our center every year. In addition to receiving inbound calls from those in need, our volunteers are engaged with our senior citizen population, survivors of suicide, veterans and local organizations and school groups. Kare Calls are made to senior citizens who might otherwise be lonely and isolated. Samaritans of FR/NB hosts Safe Place, a peer-to-peer support group for suicide loss survivors. Our Outreach to Local Veterans Program at the Fall River Veterans Center eliminates isolation and provides veterans with a degree of hope. Samaritans of FR/NB also provides outreach education about suicide prevention to local school groups and organizations and at health fairs.
Volunteer Coordinator Role:
The role of the Volunteer Coordinator is to recruit, train, supervise and support volunteers who fulfill Samaritans of FR/NB’s mission to reduce and prevent future suicides from occurring.
In the industry we serve, collaboration is key. iCarol customers often need to join together with partners — another helpline, Community Based Organization (CBO), funder, or government office — to provide continuity of care to people in need, obtain funding, and enhance their relevance and marketability as a community partner and vital provider of services. At iCarol, we see it as part of our mission and stewardship of that data to help our customers harness it to do more.
What types of collaborations do our customers engage in?
Sharing Resource Databases or Contact Forms with other contact centers in their statewide or regional network
Making warm transfers to other service providers
Engaging in after-hours call handling agreements
Sharing service inventories/resource database records with local libraries, hospitals, and other interested entities
Dispatching Mobile Crisis Teams or other services to people in need
And much, much more!
We’ve helped so many customers with such a variety of collaboration project, we even wrote an eBook to share our knowledge and help organizations get their projects off the ground.
A Public Resource Directory (PRD) — the iCarol feature that empowers iCarol customers to allow their resource database to be accessed and searched on the web — is an invaluable tool, especially for 211s and other Information and Referral contact centers who need to provide their communities with modern ways to find help using self-service and other alternatives to making a phone call.
When a website visitor is browsing a PRD and collecting resources to pursue, they want easy ways to save the information so they can access it when they are offline, share it with a friend or family member who needs assistance, or simply keep a local copy of the resources they’re planning to pursue accessing services from.
iCarol customers using the Public Resource Directory 2.0 version can allow public visitors to their iCarol Public Resource Directory to download a PDF of a resource record, providing another option to make the resource record information portable, accessible, and shareable.
iCarol customers using the PRD 2.0 can learn more by accessing the Help Articles knowledge base when signed in to their iCarol web application.
This week, Polly McDaniel, Director of Business Development, and Veronica Ross, Solutions Expert, are joining crisis center directors and staff from across the US at the National Crisis Center Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Reaching the Summit: Innovate to Elevate.” Of the theme, organizers say, “During times of division and uncertainty, crisis organizations are needing to use their collective creative energies to remain relevant and sustainable. But challenging times can bring out the best in crisis organizations. We are excited to hear what innovative and creative programs and approaches are being implemented by our crisis organization colleagues.”
At iCarol, we are strong proponents of innovation as a means for a crisis center’s growth, improved efficiency, and better outcomes for the people they serve. We’re very excited to partake in the conversations at the conference this year, and to see how we can help crisis centers innovate to elevate their service delivery.
The two entities presenting this conference, CONTACT USA (CUSA) and the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD) have a phenomenal history of supporting crisis work and we recommend considering membership for your service if you are a helpline, warmline, crisis center, suicide prevention service, or similar organization. By joining them you’ll discover fantastic networking and knowledge sharing from caring individuals who can relate to your day-to-day joys and challenges as a manager or executive director of a not-for-profit. Find out more about CUSA membership here and NASCOD membership here.
Our history with this group and conference is our longest association, going way back to iCarol’s earliest days, and many of the helplines and crisis centers who host this conference were some of iCarol’s earliest users. It’s a long standing relationship that we value and we’re proud to not only attend but are also long-term sponsors of this important gathering organized by pillars of the helpline industry.
As with all conferences we attend, we welcome the opportunity to connect with old friends and new ones. We’re eager to hear about your latest projects and discuss ways iCarol can support you and the needs of your community. Both Polly and Veronica will be on hand throughout the conference to answer questions and talk about how iCarol can help. We look forward to seeing you!
CW: The following blog post discusses the topic of sexual violence and harassment.
On August 21st and 22nd, iCarol Director of Business Development, Polly McDaniel, and Solutions Expert Veronica Ross, will be in Philadelphia for the National Sexual Assault Conference.
This is our 3rd year at this particular conference, though organizations that address sexual violence prevention and help those who have experienced a sexual assault or other crimes have long been a part of the iCarol family. In the past few years though, iCarol has seen tremendous growth in the number of new organizations joining us that serve in this space. Over the course of many years serving this industry we have learned much about the unique challenges these organizations face, the nature of the work they do and the people they serve, and the tools they need to expand services in a cost effective but meaningful way.
One undeniable trend is the need to aid survivors through live chat or SMS/Texting, in addition to phone hotlines. While we’ve seen a monumental shift in public awareness of just how pervasive sexual violence is, and more willingness to listen to and believe survivors, there are still barriers in place that prevent people from sharing their stories. The means to ask for help in a way that makes people feel less vulnerable, or more anonymous, can make all the difference in helping someone break their silence and begin their next steps toward healing and recovery. We’ve spent the last several years actively working organizations to help them add on such services.
We’re also so excited to have seen how organizations that help survivors of sexual violence are expanding their services, and using innovative tools to do so. For instance, expanding their talent pools by allowing remote work, dispatching volunteer advocates to Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) procedure, providing follow-up activities, and more services to support survivors.
If your organization supports those who have been affected by sexual violence, we invite you to review some of the resources we’ve pulled together to help you:
eBook: Choosing Software for Survivor Support Services
We’re looking forward to the opportunity to answer your questions and hear more about the amazing work you’re doing for sexual violence survivors in your community and beyond. If you are going to be at the conference, please stop by the iCarol booth! If you have questions or want to set up a meeting to speak with one of our Solutions Experts, please contact us.
n4a is a is a 501(c)(3) membership association representing America’s national network of Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and provides a voice for the Title VI Native American aging programs. iCarol serves many organizations who are Area Agencies on Aging and therefore members of n4a, as well as other agencies in the aging and disability space. Aging and Disability Resource Centers, helplines that curb senior isolation and loneliness, and senior-focused information and referral services choose our solution because we empower them to:
Invite and document contacts from clients and their caregivers over a variety of communication channels: phone, in-person, web forms, and our integrated Live Chat and Texting.
Encourage No Wrong Door initiatives by enabling them to securely send information to partners, make warm transfers, and dispatch additional services.
Create and curate simple to complex community service inventories to share with clients and caregivers by phone, email, Text/SMS, and during Live Chat sessions.
Share searchable resource information on their own public websites, or the websites of partners such as senior centers, local libraries, and hospitals.
Engage in ongoing client contact to track client history and progress, ensure needs are being met, and to document customer satisfaction and outcomes.
In some cases, Area Agencies on Aging and Aging and Disability Resource Centers are using statewide software systems, and local centers may not be empowered to use iCarol as their sole solution for service delivery. However, even in these instances iCarol can still help! Some centers use iCarol to provide important capabilities not included in a statewide solution, such as live chat or SMS/texting capabilities that expand services to a wider audience, public intake or eligibility screening forms, or web searches of available community resources.
For more information on how iCarol helps senior serving agencies, click here. If you’ll be at the n4a conference, please stop by and see the team at booth 203 so that we can discuss how iCarol can help you. If you’re not in New Orleans for the conference, we welcome those interested in learning more about the iCarol solution to contact us to ask your questions or have a quick meeting to talk about your challenges so we can see how iCarol might help.