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May is Mental Health Month

Much of the focus worldwide in recent months has been the global Coronavirus pandemic, including guidelines from staying healthy and avoiding contracting COVID-19 or passing the disease to others. And while this is obviously a critical topic, it should not be forgotten that our mental health, especially during the pandemic, is important, too.

May is Mental Health Month, and organizations around the world are sharing information about how to obtain and maintain good mental health.

Each year since 1949, Mental Health America and their affiliates have led observance of Mental Health Month. This includes release of an annual Mental Health Month toolkit, which you can download here. They also have a number of resources available on their Mental Health Month web page, this year focusing on topics such as Connecting With Others, Creating Health Routines, and Eliminating Toxic Influences.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is focusing on the power of connection and supporting one another, and promoting their core message of eliminating stigma, by sharing the message that those who many be having mental health difficulties or experiencing mental illness are not alone. Mental health conditions affect approximately 1 in 5 individuals during a given year.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has a number of articles and resources available in recognition of Canada’s Mental Health Week (May 4-10) which are available here. CMHA calls attention to the fact that, when asked how they are, people and Canadians in particular often respond with, “I’m fine,” even if they are not. CMHA is promoting more social connection and “getting real about how you feel.”

We hope during this Mental Health Month, our blog readers will take the time to engage with these and other mental health leaders to learn more and promote better mental health for all people, especially in light of the daily stressors and crises we all face due to COVID-19.

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iCarol Support Team offering monthly live training sessions

With the cancellation of iCarol’s Annual Customer Conference, we will unfortunately miss the opportunity to provide our typical day full of in-person training on iCarol’s tools and features to help our customers carry our their work. However, to support our customers in the absence of this in-person event, the iCarol Support Team will begin offering monthly training webinars. We will use customer feedback and other data available to us to determine what topics to cover — ensuring that these trainings are providing the information you need and want most. These training sessions will be consistently held on the third Wednesday of each month at 2pm EDT.

The first monthly session will occur on May 20 at 2pm EDT, and is titled “Introduction to Reporting.” This training session will establish a foundation of understanding of the reports available in the Statistics section of iCarol, and provide fundamental knowledge about the data exports available in iCarol. This training can be considered a pre-requisite for future Support Trainings that will cover individual Statistics and Reporting topics in greater detail.

During this training participants will:

  • Receive a high level overview of Statistics and Data Exports in iCarol
  • Learn about the different reports and tools available in each area of Statistics
  • Review the data available in the Data Export tool
  • Begin to understand the relationships between the files included in the export

The Monthly Support Trainings are available exclusively to iCarol customers. To sign up, please sign into your iCarol system and navigate to the iCarol Help Center, where the registration link is provided in the Announcements area.

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Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Announces COVID-19 grants

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has announced a program providing $15 million in total support to stimulate collaborations between academic researchers and the public and not-for-profit sectors, and industry to address pandemic-related research and technical challenges. Support for up to $50,000 for one-year projects is being made available immediately and NSERC will process these applications in an accelerated fashion.

Who is it for?

University researchers collaborating with private-sector, public-sector or not-for-profit organizations.

How much and for how long?

Up to $50,000 for up to 1 year.

The objectives of the NSERC Alliance COVID-19 grants are to:

  • Accelerate the flow and exchange of research results and research expertise in the natural sciences and engineering sectors between academic researchers and public, not for profit and industry partners by supporting these organizations as they face challenges in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Support research and analysis activities that address partner organization questions or issues in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to applications in the short term.

Deadline:

Applications will be accepted at any time until June 1, 2020.

Learn More and Apply

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Financial assistance for individuals, non-profits and small businesses affected by COVID-19

As the COVID-19 public health crisis remains, individuals and businesses continue to see a financial impact due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders implemented in the interest of public safety. A number of resources have been made available, including reallocation or reopening of funding processes for initiatives previously depleted of first round funding. Click the links below for more information about these initiatives in both Canada and the United States.

iCarol to hold Virtual User Group session in June

Unfortunately as is the case with so many other events planned for this spring, iCarol’s annual customer conference, originally scheduled to take place in Grand Rapids, Michigan this June, has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to this event each year and were very disappointed to have to cancel, as we always enjoy seeing our customers and spending an entire day with them immersed in iCarol training and a user group session.

It’s important to us that our customers still have the opportunity to connect with us, receive training, and have the option to participate in a user group session, even if this year we can’t hold the event in person.

We’re excited to announce the first initiative to provide that continuity — the user group portion of our conference will become a virtual user group session, scheduled for Thursday, June 11 at 2pm Eastern.

This virtual user group session is your chance to hear about the latest improvements and enhancements to iCarol, learn what we have planned for implementation in the coming months, and discuss and provide feedback to the iCarol Product Management team on what features you’d like to see implemented in the future. All customers or those exploring iCarol for potential use at their organization are welcome to attend.

Virtual User Group Exclusive: Attendees of this session will be the first to hear about a major feature release coming in Q4 of 2020! You won’t want to miss it!

During this session we will:*

  • Review released features and enhancements from the past year
  • Share features and enhancements in progress and coming soon
  • Discuss iCarol strategy and priorities
  • Invite your industry expertise and votes on top ideas
  • Share a sneak peek at an all new, major feature release coming in Q4 of 2020!

Learn More and Register

*We reserve the right to make adjustments to our schedule and topics prior to the event date.

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Practicing Self-care in Times of High Stress Part 2

This is the second in a series of blogs about practicing self-care in times of high stress, such as what we’re experiencing now with COVID-19. You can read Part 1 here.

Many people—especially those in helping professions—find it hard to practice self-care even if they understand its importance. There are a number of reasons for this. It is difficult to pause and make time for self-care practices when consumed by tasks at home, work, with family, etc. Helpers might feel guilty about taking time for self-care for fear that they are somehow letting down their families, coworkers or clients by pausing, even momentarily, to care for themselves. With these obstacles in play, it’s important to take some actions to make self-care a bit easier to achieve.

Tips to Help Make Self-care Possible

Start short, and work your way up

Sometimes we associate self-care with activities taking a long bubble bath or treating yourself to a professional massage. While either of those can be great for self-care, these two examples involve a level of time and cost commitment that is unrealistic for many people. Instead, we should think of self-care as something that someone only needs to take a few minutes to achieve at first. While it’s ideal to take more than just a few minutes at a time for self-care, associating self-care only with more indulgent, time-consuming activities can easily set a person to give up on the idea without even trying, because it seems too unrealistic to achieve.

Develop strategies for work and home

You’re going to need self-care options for several different environments and circumstances, so it’s a good idea to keep a few ideas in your toolbox that will work for the setting. Taking a half hour to break and read a book or watch a television program might work at home, but in the office self-care may look more like finding a quiet space for a few minutes of deep breathing and recharging. Try to keep an open mind and find multiple activities that work for you so that you can practice self-care as you find time in a variety of environments.

Pursue activities that are therapeutic for you

When deciding how to care for yourself, think about what you enjoy and what kinds of activities give you a deepest sense of peace, relaxation, or accomplishment of self-care. It can be easy to get caught up in what self-care “should” look like through society’s perspective, but effective self-care is very individualized.

Make it a team effort

It’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately— “We are all in this together.” But, the saying is particularly true especially for those who are working directly on COVID-19 response. Caring for others is one of those things you’re good at, and you can use that power to take care of your colleagues, and let them take care of you as well. The power and protection of your team is more meaningful now than ever, so rely on one another to help make self-care a priority. For example, help remind one another to take breaks as needed at work, and be there to process difficult calls with one another. If everyone buys in to self-care as an important part of the workplace, you can all help one another be accountable for everyone practicing good self-care.

In the third and final part of this blog series, we’ll share some ideas for self-care activities and why each might be effective for reducing stress.

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Government resources/assistance to non-profits affected by COVID-19

Businesses of all types have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, including not-for-profit organizations. Both the Canadian and US Federal Governments have made assistance programs available to small businesses, particularly regarding maintaining of payroll in spite of lost income. The following resources may be helpful to your non-profit organization if you need to explore such programs for your agency:


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Webinar – Federal COVID-19 Legislation: What do they mean for nonprofits?

Shared via National Council of Nonprofits:

In rapid succession over the last two weeks, Congress passed and the President signed two far-reaching pieces of legislation designed to provide relief to the American people and businesses – including nonprofits. Included in the provisions of these bills are major victories for nonprofits, operational relief, and new obligations.

On Tuesday, April 7 at 3:00 pm Eastern, the networks of the National Council of Nonprofits are hosting a national presentation to help all in the charitable community understand the various provisions of the two laws and what they mean for nonprofits.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act created new workplace obligations for employers and expanded supports for individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight days later, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) authorized more than $2 trillion in spending to inject cash into the economy, businesses, and nonprofits. There is a great deal to unpack:

  • Mandated paid sick and family leave and refundable payroll tax credits
  • Generous loan funds for small (< 500 employees) and mid-size (between 500 and 10,000 employees) nonprofit employers; which program is best for your organization?
  • Above-the-line or universal charitable deduction available for 2020
  • Employee retention refundable tax credit
  • Expanded unemployment and enhanced funding for social support programs

This webinar will share the latest analysis and information available at the time of the webinar, including translating new guidance and regulations from multiple federal agencies into nonprofit-friendly language, and answering the questions frontline nonprofits need resolved so they can keep their doors open and missions moving forward.

Learn More and Register

iCarol is not affiliated with this webinar and cannot endorse the content. Given the webinar agenda and its relevance for our customers, we wanted to share it with you in case you would like to attend.

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Practicing Self-care in Times of High Stress Part 1

April is Stress Awareness Month. Right now we’re all very aware of just how stressful life is, and for those providing any kind of services and response to COVID-19, it is an especially stressful time. When the calls are nonstop, the task list is endless, and the hours are long, that’s precisely when we tend to abandon our self-care so we can focus more attention on work—And that’s the exact wrong thing to do.

It is normal to approach self-care with skepticism. Not so much questioning its importance, but how realistic it is to achieve. The reality is none of us have the free time staring us in the face where we can easily focus on ourselves, the point is you have to make the time and commit to it.

Why is Self-care Important?

Be a more effective caregiver

As the flight attendant says, “In the event of an emergency, when the oxygen masks deploy, be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Why? Because if you pass out from lack of oxygen, not only do you suffer but those who needed your assistance can’t receive help either. You cannot be an effective caregiver to others if you yourself are suffering from excessive stress or burnout. And the way to avoid getting to the breaking point is to practice self-care along the way, and often, so that stress levels aren’t able to get to the point of breaking you and preventing you from truly being present for each client interaction you are tasked to handle.

Prevent physical and mental health problems

It’s not just about the health and well-being of the people you serve—your own health is put at risk when stress compounds and you neglect a self-care routine. According to numerous health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Canadian Public Health Association, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Heart Association, National Institute of Mental Health, and others, chronic stress can lead to several—sometimes serious—health conditions including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Problems sleeping/insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Disruption to memory and concentration
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease and stroke

The American Psychological Association outlines the numerous, and very scientific, reasons that stress impacts your body from your brain to your muscles and everything in between. If you struggle with investing time in a self-care routine, think of it this way: If any of the conditions listed above develop as a result of chronic stress, you’ll end up spending much more of your time, resources, finances—and, ultimately undergo even more stress. Think of the old quote by Benjamin Franklin coined way back in 1736: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Maintain healthy relationships

When things are particularly hectic at work, coming home can be a welcome reprieve. But, left unmanaged, stress can create unrest in your household. Stress is contagious, and so your overall mood or tense demeanor could cause your partner, children, and others in your home, to experience similar symptoms. Stress can cause us to have a “shorter fuse” and lose patience more quickly, leading to bickering or blow ups. And, in this case, one of the scientific benefits of stress—increased vigilance—can make you hyper aware of the faults, annoying habits, and negative behaviors of those around you, again potentially creating more arguments and bickering. Effectively managing stress through self-care can help keep the peace.

How do I practice self-care?

In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll look at the different ways one can practice self-care to relieve the symptoms and effects of stress.

Sources:
Why Self Care Can Help You Manage Stress
The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain
Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior
The Effects of Stress on Your Body
Lower Stress: How does stress affect the body?
Mental Health – Coping With Stress
Stress effects on the body
5 Things You Should Know About Stress
Managing Stress
How Stress Affects Mental Health
Is Stress Killing Your Relationship? Why You’re Not Alone
What are the effects of stress on a relationship?

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How iCarol Facilitates Remote Work

Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a contact center, including your workers’ homes. Because iCarol is a web-based solution, it can be used anywhere with an internet connection. iCarol Software empowers employers to not only make remote work possible, but do so without sacrificing service delivery or quality. Now more than ever, especially given the continuity of operations needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies we can be sure to experience in the future, it’s time to consider remote work for your agency.

Controlling Access

There are a number of tools in iCarol that help you exercise control over what your users can see or do when working outside of the office. For instance, while any device can sign in to iCarol, you can make it so that only certain devices can access sensitive information such as Client Profiles or Contact Records. Using the Restriction/Certification tool, individual devices can be certified either directly by an iCarol Admin level user, or you can give permissions to a user to download and install a certification tool on the device themselves. iCarol’s Support Team can also authorize specific IP addresses, if you have a particular static IP address that should be allowed to access sensitive areas of the software.

iCarol Admin users can also restrict an individual volunteer or staff member’s movements throughout the solution on a very granular level using Advanced Security Settings found within each individual user Volunteer/Staff Profile. There are five high level security settings, plus numerous advanced security settings that enable or disable even more specific controls over what areas of iCarol a user can access, and what types of tasks they can complete. This way, you can restrict users’ movements in the system which is especially helpful when you aren’t able to supervise a worker in person or wish them to have more limited iCarol capabilities if they are working away from the office.

Connect Your Workforce with Your Mission and Each Other

One objection often heard about remote work, particularly from those who enjoy the socialization that comes with an office setting, is that it can make one feel lonely and isolated. It is very important that remote workers are given opportunities to connect with one another, their supervisor or manager, and the mission or “big picture” of the organization for which they work. Being separated from one’s coworkers physically doesn’t have to lead to separation anxiety for workers who crave or need human connectivity to perform their work.

When logging in to iCarol, all users see a home page that provides a snapshot at what’s going on at their agency. The News section can be used to share the latest information they might need to know, perhaps a new service provider was added to your resource database, or a local TV station is airing a story that will share your helpline number which could lead to a bump in volume. No matter the news, you can put it front and center and be sure your iCarol users are in the know.

Sharing important information with your workers is important, but so is getting your workers to interact with each other and feel like a team. In the Chatboard, volunteers and staff can add to discussions on topics and in forums set up by managers, giving everyone a chance to share ideas, input, and add to conversations. iCarol also provides an Internal Chat feature that allows logged in users to securely chat with one another. This helps iCarol users communicate with their peers or supervisors instantaneously, to ask for advice about a call, get help finding a resource record, or ask their supervisor to silent monitor a difficult chat they just answered.

It’s important to have connectivity not just between your own staff members, but among peers and colleagues across your industry, especially when your industry may be addressing a common challenge like in the case with COVID-19. The iCarol Community is a place where Admin level users of iCarol, typically leaders and managers at the organization, can post messages seen by their peers at similar services worldwide. Networking with these peers can be a great way to learn best practices from one another, share resources, policies, templates, or just receive support from others who are right where you are and can relate to the challenges you are addressing. This feature was recently expanded with a version now available to all iCarol users within the iCarol Help Center.

Provide Supervision and Coaching

Most employees want to be good at what they do, and serve their clients well. That can’t happen without supervision and feedback from one’s manager. You can still provide supervision and effectively coach your workers even if you are in separate places.

There are multiple ways this is accomplished in iCarol. One can be found in your Messaging (Live Chat and SMS/Texting) area of iCarol. All conversations can be silently monitored by managers with the correct permissions in iCarol. This means they can watch and read the conversation as it happens. If the worker appears to be stuck or is going in the wrong direction with the interaction, the supervisor could use Internal Chat to send them a note and get them back on the right track. People with permissions to silent monitor can also join or take over a Live Chat or SMS/Texting conversation entirely if the situation calls for it. Coaching can occur after other interactions, too. Contact Records have an area for authorized users to give both private or public feedback for the specialist to read and learn from. You can always supplement these iCarol tools with an occasional phone meeting as needed to provide supervision and coaching can also help employees feel guided and supported.

Sometimes supervision is a matter of quickly checking to see that your workers are doing their assigned task, or setting in place reminders for these employees. Admin users have access to comprehensive sign on logs so they can check that remote workers are signed into the system when they are supposed to be. You can also set up a number of notifications for your workers – reminding them when the shift calendar is open for signup, when they have a shift coming up, or when a follow-up task is assigned to them. Volunteers and Staff handling incoming Live Chats or SMS/Text messages from your community can be alerted when a new conversation comes through to the queue. This is especially helpful for remote workers who are multi-tasking and cannot be tethered to their workstation, for example if they are doing field work.

Ensure Quality

Ensuring the people who contact your organization receive excellent service and come away feeling helped is a top priority. There are plenty of ways to evaluate remote workers just as you might if they were in the office. Contact Records, logging any type of interaction, can be read to review the content of the documentation. Managers can also ensure the data collection elements are correctly marked, either by reading individual Contact Records, or running reports in iCarol’s Statistics section. The Statistics area also allows you to filter reports by worker, making it simpler to evaluate the documentation of a single volunteer or staff member.

The Random Sampling Surveys feature in iCarol reminds your workers to schedule satisfaction surveys and other follow-up interactions. The results of these surveys can be evaluated to find any gaps in service quality. It’s also easy to check the quality of data curation done by your Resource Manager. iCarol’s Resource Advanced Search and Bulk Editing Tool provides an in-app, table-style way of finding missing data, or information that is not correctly formatted to your style guide.

Quality assurance is a top priority for most managers, and there are many ways in iCarol to check quality and ensure your community is receiving a high level of service, even when that service delivery is happening away from the office.

Invite Community Interaction

The people in your community appreciate and need your services, but how they want to access them is evolving. More people are opting for self-service options when they are made available, such as exploring available services online, or filling out an intake form or screening rather than making a phone call. When your community has self-service options available to them, they get the benefit or your services while reducing direct staff time needed to serve them, and this can be especially helpful for remote work.

The iCarol Public Resource Directory enables use of an embedded resource database/service provider directory on your website where it can be searched or browsed by your web visitors. Since these resource records are pulled directly from iCarol, your community can rest easy knowing the information is thoroughly vetted and well-curated by your resource managers, and is much more reliable than the results they may get by conducting a generic web search. A Public Resource Directory is especially useful during emergencies or disaster response – when your community has the ability for self-service like this, it will decrease the volume of direct contacts on your staff which reduces wait times or abandoned calls, and lessens stress for your staff members.

Public Web Forms, another self-service option, allows community members to visit your website and complete a customized form that, once submitted, appears in iCarol as a completed Contact Record so you can run reports on the collected data, and disposition and follow-up according to your internal processes. It’s a versatile option that is especially useful in emergencies or disasters when your remote work plan may be activated. If your program needs to screen people for program fund disbursement eligibility, for example, you might expect an overwhelming number of calls about the subject. A Public Web Form would be a suitable replacement to speaking with a staff member. Using the form’s built-in screening tools you can assess and communicate eligibility, then forms submitted by eligible recipients are placed in iCarol for easy assignment and follow-up tasks for your staff.

Summary

If your organization is not already offering remote work options, now is the time to consider it. Having the option for your volunteers and staff to work remotely, either on a temporary basis due to continuity of operations planning during an emergency, or on a more permanent basis, offers many benefits to your workers and your organization. And as you can see from reading through this blog, when you use iCarol, you don’t have to sacrifice service quality, proper supervision, or strong communication and connectivity to build a professional workforce that works away from the office setting.

Given the current situation with COVID-19, we can rapidly deploy and offer low-cost, short term options to help with your community response. Contact us for more information and to get started. Continue Reading No Comments

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