Returning to school and beginning a new academic year can cause feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in any circumstances, but this year it is extra stressful on students, parents, and educators alike due to COVID-19.
Each year, Mental Health America releases a back to school toolkit aimed at helping people start the new school year right with healthy habits and an awareness of stress and mental health. This year the kit contains materials aimed specifically at coping with the unusual circumstances of beginning school in the midst of a pandemic, with many schools opting for virtual or distance learning, at least for the first semester.
The 2020 Mental Health America Back to School Toolkit is available now on the Mental Health America website.
The Coronavirus global pandemic has introduced all sorts of new challenges to not-for-profit organizations — maintaining services while social distancing and obeying stay-at-home orders, keeping staff and clients safe, shifting to remote work, engaging clients online — to name a few. And while seamless service delivery is of the utmost importance, those services often can’t exist without donors, stakeholders and funders, and we’ve still yet to see the long-term impacts the economic downturns and depression may have on non-profit funding.
A recent blog shared to Candid Learning, an online source for information about philanthropy and fundraising, shares some information and steps toward better engaging and accessing funding sources during the pandemic, and tips on realigning services with the missions and priorities of those funders. Read more on the Candid Learning blog, authored by Elizabeth (Liz) Ngonzi.
Check out these related resources:
How to Get Funding
for New Technology
Why Advocacy and
How the Heck Do You Do It?
Building a United Crisis Line Team
in Times of Diverse Need
How to Calculate
Social Return on Investment
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 Does Working From Home Work?
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
Do More Together: A Guide to Collaborations
Using iCarol During a Disaster or Emergency