Ample staffing at your non-profit helpline is always a top challenge, but bad weather brings with it a whole new set of staffing hurdles. Snowy and icy conditions* can especially spell trouble for seamless shift coverage. Particularly powerful storms not only disrupt travel for days, but they have the potential to impact essential infrastructure like electricity and running water. These weather events take strategy and pre-planning to work through them successfully.
Depending on the severity of the storm, you may have no special plan at all except to tell your specialists that they are expected to be there for their shift or find a substitute to cover for them. In many snow storms, travel is possible so long as precautions are taken, such as driving at slower speeds and being extra vigilant. Call centers in urban settings may also benefit from having volunteers living within walking distance or taking public transportation.
But sometimes travel conditions can become extremely hazardous or even impossible. What then? Here are some methods we’ve commonly seen:
- The show must go on – Shifts go on as scheduled no matter what. Workers who can’t make it in must give ample notice and find substitutes who are able to travel. iCarol’s shift scheduling tools support you and your staff throughout this process; automatic substitute request emails greatly improve the visibility of your needs and the chances of pick-ups from others.
Pros: Little to no prior planning or change to your normal operations.
Cons: The absence of any back up plan can spell trouble, so you should have some alternative options in mind just in case. Your volunteers may have the best intentions of making it in, but the reality is that Mother Nature can easily stop us in our tracks and there’s only so much a person can realistically do when faced with heavy accumulations and impassable roads. You won’t want to be faced with the scenario where the previous shift is stuck with no relief. Take a moment to also consider the consequences of a potential road accident and injury to your volunteer when traveling in dangerous conditions, and the emotional and potentially litigious repercussions of demanding that volunteers travel in unsafe conditions. Further, when a State of Emergency is declared, it often requires that road travelers have their vehicle outfitted with special equipment, and drivers disobeying the order may even be fined.
Work from home – Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a call center, even your workers’ homes. Calls could get forwarded to that worker’s personal phone or a phone loaned to them from the office. Chats or texts can be taken from virtually anywhere as well. Special tip for iCarol users who might employ this method: You must either turn off ‘Restriction’ (the feature that makes it so your workers can’t see call reports from a personal computer outside the office) or give your staff and volunteers permissions to install the iCarol Certification Tool on their computer. You can read more about this here.
- Transfer your calls – In some instances there may be a partner agency, satellite office of your program, or a back-up center in an area unaffected or less affected by the weather, and they can take the lead on operations for a period of time. Our Call Report form sharing functionality makes it easy for you to pass your service delivery on to other centers, while they use your preferred form(s) to log the interactions they’re taking on your behalf. This also ensures your data collection and the resulting reporting can be seamless regardless of who is actually providing the service.
Pros: Less direct impact on you, your volunteers, and staff during the event. Being able to simply forward your service to someone else is very convenient.
Cons: This does come with a few sacrifices. First, your service delivery is being entrusted to others for a period of time. Necessary MOU’s and other contracts should be in place well in advance to ensure that same or acceptable level of service will be provided by the back up center. Consider any financial compensation that must be paid out as well. And you’ll want to have understandings about proper data collection, call handling policies, and more.
Pros: You’re unlikely to get much push back from your volunteers or staff about this plan; the idea of staying warm, cozy, and off the roads will send many a helpline worker to their happy place. Plus, you won’t have to worry about people physically making it in to the call center for their shift. Worried about productivity? The term is referred to as “shirking from home” — the concern that your employees won’t actually get anything done and left to their own devices will shirk their responsibilities. The good news is, numerous studies have discovered that this is a generally unfounded fear. A Stanford University study 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. These days there are plenty of communication methods available making it so that remote workers won’t feel disconnected. Keep in mind that with iCarol your supervisors can remotely silent monitor chat and text conversations, leave feedback on logged interactions, put out News alerts, send instant messages to your workers via Internal Chat, send emails and SMS messages, and more. Technology has made us more connected with one another than ever before, even if we’re physically separated by many miles.
Camping out – Marshmallows optional. When the forecast calls for dangerous weather and snow accumulations that might make travel impossible, make a decision ahead of time to suspend the usual schedule, and instead have a crew arrive prior to hazardous road conditions developing. This crew will stay for a period of time until travel is safe again and shifts can resume.
Cons: Most modern phone systems have many remote controls that allow you to sign in remotely and forward calls as needed, but some might require you to be on-site to activate the call transfers. If there are no remote capabilities for controlling where the calls are landing, then that means someone has to make it into the office to flip the switches, possibly rendering the work-from-home scenario moot. You’ll also want to consider home office digital security, and whether or not having employees work off-site violates the terms of any of your contracts. There’s also the matter of assuring your volunteers and staff have a suitable work environment free from distraction or disruptive noise or potential confidentiality violations. They also won’t be able to take advantage of some of the infrastructure that may be available at your center, like battery backups or generators in case of a power outage.
Pros: Again, you’ll be free from having to worry about workers traveling or one shift getting stuck because relief didn’t arrive. The whole idea here is that they know they’ll be stuck for awhile, and they’re (hopefully) okay with that. This is a policy you could develop long before winter weather strikes, so that you aren’t faced with a chaotic scramble for a solution just before a blizzard hits. You may even cultivate your list of willing participants ahead of time as well. Being able to make these decisions in advance without the storm bearing down on you is certainly a benefit, simply activate the plan when needed.
Cons: Directors, Managers, and other decision-makers will want to stay in close contact and clearly communicate expectations, especially concerning staff arrival time and decisions about when normal operations should resume. Volunteer or staff health and well-being is a concern. Does your call center have adequate facilities to keep them comfortable for an extended stay of 24 hours or more? Think about bathrooms, bathing and personal hygiene, and food access and preparation. Mentally and emotionally, how will your staff deal with being at the office for a long period of time? They’ll need to have regular breaks and take time for uninterrupted sleep, which means this plan usually requires at least two participants. You’ll also want to review labor laws in your area to be sure your policy doesn’t violate ordinances relating to a worker’s right to ample breaks, and whether or not additional financial compensation is required.
How do you keep your helpline operating in spite of dangerous travel conditions for your volunteers and staff?Do you employ one of the strategies above, or do you handle winter storm scheduling some other way? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment!
* While this article refers specifically to blizzards and other winter weather conditions, these strategies could be employed during any disaster scenario, natural or man-made.
Available space is filling up fast! If you haven’t already, please be sure to register for our Quarterly Enhancement Review scheduled for next Wednesday January 6th at 12pm EDT.
Because iCarol is a web-based program, our software is updated and new features deployed via regular releases. In this webinar we plan to review some of our best and most useful features from recent months, and give you a few exclusive sneak peeks at features being released very soon. Just some of the advantages of these new tools? You can:
- Improve your chat and text service delivery
- Increase productivity and efficiency when providing resource and referral services
- Enhance communication within your networks
- Meet your follow-up mandates with less impact on your staff
- Gather data from the public, your clients, potential volunteers and others via new channels
- And more!
We hope you can join us next week and hear in person about all the latest tools that help your daily workflow. Please click the link below to register. Can’t join us on the 6th? The webinar recording will be up on our site shortly after the webinar ends.
Click here to Register
We recently upgraded the iCarol Chatboard area so that it allows for Rich Text formatting on your entries.
What does this mean? Previously the Chatboard offered Plain Text formatting only, which meant that all the text was going to be of a default font, default size, and no special formatting like italicized, bold, or colorized text could be supported. As the name implies, it was kept very plain.
Rich text exposes more controls and gives you the option to do more with your entry.
Rich text supports a number of functions including:
- Making text Bold
- Making text Italicized
- Changing font type, size, and color
- Numbered or Bulleted lists
- Inserting hyperlinks
These new tools support more customization and creativity in your forum’s format as well as making the entries more visually pleasing. You can also add more organization and clarity to your forums.
We hope you’ll enjoy using these new functions and that it will enhance the communication between you, your volunteers, staff, board members, and others who use your Chatboard to stay connected!
On Tuesday the The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced they’ll accept applications for up to $2.1 million for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Crisis Center Follow-Up program grants for up to 3 years. This program promotes systematic follow-up assistance to suicidal persons who call the Lifeline and persons discharged from partnering emergency departments.
Grantees will provide telephone follow-up to Lifeline callers who have been assessed at imminent risk of suicide and emergency interventions.The positive effects of follow-up for those having thoughts of suicide is apparent and confirmed in many studies. This particular program has provided life-saving intervention to many people since 2008.
SAMHSA is projected to provide an estimated six selected crisis centers with up to $115,000 per year for up to the next three years. Actual award amounts may vary and depend on the availability of funds. For more information and to apply, visit SAMHSA’s website.
Categorizing your resources can help your staff and volunteers find appropriate resources for those in need. Rather than searching for a resource by name, they can search by a category and be presented with a list of resources matching that search term. The list of categories is completely customizable, and for those using the AIRS taxonomy, please note you can use both the taxonomy and custom categories if you wish.
To turn on the custom category feature in iCarol, follow these steps:
- Click Admin Tools in the left hand menu
- Click the Resources Tab
- In the AIRS/211 Taxonomy section, click the box next to “Uses Categories as well as 211 Taxonomy” to place a check mark there
- Click the “Save all settings” button at the top of the screen
Once the feature is turned on, the next step is to create a list of custom categories. It may be useful to review the resources currently in your resource database to determine what category names to use that would best represent the kinds of services those resources offer. Please note, this tool can be used to create just one list of categories, and it can also be used to create a list of categories with sub-categories.
To create a custom category, follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Click Manage Resources in the upper right hand side of the screen
- In the second column, click “Customize your keywords”
- Click “Add a new keyword”
- Fill in a Name for the category. A description and a rank for the category are optional.
- Before clicking Save, on the left hand side of the screen, place a checkmark either beside the option that says “Assign to the top level of your hierarchy” if you want the category to be in the top level of your hierarchy, or beside the name of a category already created, to make the new category a sub-category of that one. For example, in the screenshot below, “Youth” and “Matrimony” are sub-categories of Counseling.
- Click the Save button
The final step is to assign categories to your resources. There are two ways to do this. The first option is to search for a specific resource you want to assign categories to and edit it. Follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Search for the resource you would like to assign categories to
- When you receive the list of search results, click “Details” on the resource you would like to edit
- Click the Edit button in the upper right hand corner
- Scroll down the page to the Categorization section
- Click the link “Assign this resource to categories. For those who also use taxonomy, please note that this link will say “Assign this resource to taxonomy” but it will be used to assign both taxonomy and categories
- A pop-up box will appear that will show the categorization hierarchy you have created.
- Click the boxes beside the categories you would like to assign the resource to. This will place a check mark in the box
- At the top of the pop-up box, click the “save selection for this resource” button
- You can then close the pop-up box and the resource record will update to show the categories assigned
- Click “Save” or “Save and view resource” at the top of the screen
The second method to assign categories to resources is to use the “Assign resources to categories” tool. Follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Click Manage resources in the upper right hand corner of the screen
- Click “Assign resources to categories” in the second column
- Use the filters at the top of the screen to create a list of resources to assign categories to
- Once the list of resources has been generated, click the “Assign” link next to the name of the resource. This will bring up the hierarchy of categories you have created.
- Click the boxes beside the categories you would like to assign the resource to. This will place a check mark in the box
- At the top of the screen, click the “save selection for this resource” button
- The resource you just added categories to will disappear from the list of resources as your categorizations have been successfully saved.
- From here, you can click Assign beside the next resource and repeat the steps above
Once categories have been created, and resources have been assigned to these categories, one can then search by these categories. Searches can be conducted either by typing a category name in the search box and clicking the Search button, or by clicking on a category name in the category hierarchy that will appear on the resource search page. For example, the search depicted below was generated by clicking Cancer Type, and then Breast in the category hierarchy to generate a list of resources that provide services related to breast cancer.
If you have any questions about using categories in iCarol, please submit a case to the iCarol Support Team.
Beginning in 2011, when the Unites States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.
Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services. I&R services come in all shapes and sizes, from crisis lines that provide their local community with a core set of human service referrals, to larger scale 2-1-1 centers and statewide 2-1-1 networks providing comprehensive Information and Referral services to entire states or provinces covering many different topics and types of services.
Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.
The people who work these lines are consummate professionals who are often times like living, breathing encyclopedias; providing answers to questions ranging from, “Where can I get a free meal for my family” to “There’s a horse running loose in my neighborhood, who do I call?” We at iCarol are really honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, or text.
If you’d like to learn more about what iCarol does to support efficient referral management, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features. You’re also welcome to join one of our regular webinars that focuses solely on our Information and Referral tools. We hope you’ll join us sometime to learn more.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need!
The 211 Taxonomy is one of the ways you can categorize your resources in iCarol. It’s a highly detailed set of over 9,500 various terms and an extremely precise, structured way of saying what services each resource provides. The Taxonomy is most used by 2-1-1 centers and other Information and Referral agencies, as its use is an essential part of AIRS accreditation. And when you subscribe to this feature in iCarol, you get to benefit of our regular updates such as migrating resources from terms that have been retired to active ones.
Taxonomy users in iCarol can import their own Taxonomy “filters.” These custom taxonomy filters are administered on the 211taxonomy.org website and anyone with a subscription to this site can download them at any time. The filters are a subset of the full taxonomy and allow you to deactivate a large number of taxonomy terms at once.
There are a few different types of filters available on 211Taxonomy.org. A couple filters are officially released by 211 LA County, distributors of the Taxonomy. Some others were created by other subscribers and set up to be shared.
Importing a filter can be useful when you want your taxonomy customizations to match those of the other entities using the taxonomy who have shared their filter on the site. Using these filters also gives your organization a starting point for the Taxonomy, rather than needing to pour over the 9,500 + terms to decide which your helpline wishes to employ. Applying these filters in iCarol was previously possible, but required help from our support team. Now we’ve put the control directly into your hands.
This tool to import a custom Taxonomy filter, available to Admin users only, can be used by taking the following steps:
- Download your custom filter from the 211taxonomy.org website. The file will be a .xml file.
- In iCarol, click Resources > Manage Resources > Customize the taxonomy
- Scroll to the bottom of the page to the “Admins only – Import a custom taxonomy filter” section (non-admins will not see this)
- Click Browse and select the XML 211Taxonomy file
- Click “Delete all existing taxonomy customizations in my iCarol system and import this new filter”
- You will receive an email notification when the new customization has been uploaded and applied to your system.
Please note that by using this tool, all existing taxonomy customizations in your iCarol system will first be deleted. Proceed with extreme caution and be absolutely certain you wish to proceed before going through the import process.
If you use the ability to send Referrals via SMS (Text message) on your Call Report Forms, we have an exciting new capability to share with you. You can now customize the template used when sending these referrals via SMS message.
There is a default SMS Referral Template which sends information via text message in the following formats:
Agency Name; Agency Phone Number (first found custom-phone or all named phones); Loc: Agency Address Line 1, Agency Address Line 2, Agency Town/District, Agency City, Agency State/Province, Agency Zip/Postal Code
E.g. Elmdale Food Bank; 805-333-3333; Loc: 225 Simi Village Drive, Unit 2, Simi Valley, CA, 93065
Program Name; (first found custom-phone or all named phones); Loc: Program Address Line 1, Program Address Line 2, Program Town/District, Program City, Program State/Province, Program Zip/Postal Code
E.g. Food Hamper; 805-333-3333; Loc: 225 Simi Village Drive, Unit 2, Simi Valley, CA, 93065
There are two ways that phone numbers will be added to your default SMS Template:
- If Custom-named phones fields have been used on the Agency or Program record the first Phone Number found will be included in the SMS Referral, all other custom-named phones or named phone numbers will be omitted. (e.g. If you use the 3rd and 4th phone number fields, only the 3rd phone number will be included in the SMS Referral.)
- If you use the Agency Phone Numbers (named phone numbers) all of these numbers will be included in the SMS Referral in the order Fax Number, Toll Free, TTY, After Hours, Business Line, Hotline, Out of Area. (e.g. 403-215-5454 403-5487-2485 800-5428, etc.)
This is how such referrals by SMS may look as you prepare your report form. Note that the default SMS Referral template does not include labels or descriptions for included phone numbers.
So, how do you go about customizing the appearance of these SMS messages?
Creating a Customized SMS Referral Template
To modify your custom SMS Referral Template, contact iCarol Support by submitting a case through your Help menu. In your request include the following:
- The name of the Call Report(s) you would like the custom SMS Referral Template to be used for
- The Resource record fields you would like to include in your template for Agency and Program referrals.
- Any labels for those fields (or groups of fields, such as “address:” or “Loc:”).
- Provide separate details for what you would like SMS referrals to look like for Agency and Program records, iCarol Support will then work to incorporate all of your requests into one Template.
Here is an example of what SMS Referral Template could look like, at this time we are only able to include fields located on Agency or Program records, any values located on your ProgramAtSite or Sites won’t be available for your template.
AgencyName; Short Description; Hotline: Hotline, TollFree: Tollfree, Main: BusinessLine; Loc: Address Line 1, Address Line 2, City, County, Zip Code
ProgramName offered by AgencyName; Short Description; Hotline: Hotline, TollFree: Tollfree, Main: BusinessLine; Loc: Address Line 1, Address Line 2, City, County, Zip Code
(Note in the Starter Template Examples, labels will be italicized to help identify them – these labels will not appear in your SMS Referral Template if values do not exist in the field. e.g. Only a handful of your Program records have Toll Free Numbers, but when the toll free number exists it’s important that it is sent to the caller.)
If your organization wishes to use this feature, or if you have any additional questions on how to use it, please send a request via the Online Case Submission Tool, found in your Help menu, for support. Not sending out referrals by SMS message? Contact our team today to get started.
Time is running out and available space is filling up fast! If you haven’t already, please be sure to register for our Quarterly Enhancement Review scheduled for September 30th at 1pm EDT.
In this fast-paced webinar, with time for questions, we’ll be discussing:
- New features recently released
- How these changes help you find ways to streamline your day
- How these changes can expand your service offerings in your helpline
The webinar will be most beneficial and interesting to current iCarol clients who are Program Managers or Directors and use iCarol at an Administrator security level, or those who are considering subscribing to iCarol. That said, all are welcome to attend.
We’re committed to providing excellent communication about iCarol capabilities, updates, and enhancements on a regular basis. We hope you’ll join us!
Click here to Register
Interested, but can’t make it on the 30th? No worries, we’ll have the recording available on our website shortly after the live broadcast.
We recently enhanced the “Follow-up Activity” section of call report forms to allow for scheduling several follow-ups at the time that the original form is being filled out. Previously you could add just one initial follow-up activity when first filling out a new call form. Scheduling additional follow-ups was possible, but it required that you first submit and then view or edit the report form before adding additional activities. These additional steps are now unnecessary.
Here’s how this capability works:
1. If you’re only scheduling one follow-up for the client, do what you have always done, which is to fill out your reporting form, fill out the Follow-up Activity information on the ‘Finish’ tab of the form, and then Submit the form.
Important Note: If you only want to add one follow-up activity, follow the steps above as written. You DO NOT need to click the “Add New Follow Up” button. If you do, then enter the follow-up details again, two follow-up activities will be created. The Add New Follow Up button is only to be used if you want to add more than one follow-up activity at a time.
2. If you know at the time the initial report form is being created that this client should receive not one, but several follow-ups, you can schedule several follow-ups at this time, before submitting the form. After scheduling the first follow-up, click the Add New Follow Up button to save this follow-up and create an additional follow-up.
3. Once the first follow-up has been scheduled, you’ll see it listed under the Scheduled Follow-ups area. Then, your follow-up activity will be clear once again and you can now schedule an additional follow-up. Once the information is complete, click the Add New Follow Up button as you did before to add this second follow up.
4. You can follow steps 2 and 3 as many times as needed to scheduled a series of follow-ups for this client, before clicking the Submit button once finished. If at any point you make a mistake when filling out follow-up details, the Clear Follow Up button can be used to clear all details entered.
You’ll still be able to add additional follow-up activities in both View or Edit mode of report forms just as you always could, but these new capabilities allow for a more efficient process if you’d like to schedule several follow-ups right from that first, newly created form.
There are many scenarios in which you may know during the first interaction that a help-seeker will want or need several follow-ups. One example is shown in our screenshots above, where a caller presenting with thoughts of suicide may need several follow-ups to stay in touch and help them maintain a safety plan. In fact, many authorities on suicide prevention best practices suggest that ongoing follow-ups from crisis contact centers are an important part of successfully seeing someone safely through a period of intense suicide ideation.
Other examples of multiple follow-up planning during the initial interaction could be planning out a series of surveys with a caller, or a series of follow-ups to follow their progression through an application process or other ongoing activity.
By being able to set out and schedule these follow-ups all at once when completing the initial form documentation, your staff and volunteers will save some additional steps and clicks, which saves time and more quickly gets them back and available for the next call, chat, or text.