“Like our nation and the world, we face a public health threat that requires immediate, drastic action. As we move forward, please take care of your coworkers, your families and yourself. We will get through this.”
These were the last lines of County Manager John Vithoulkas’ announcement to reduce operations as of Tuesday, March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He challenged us to come together (virtually) and uphold our commitment to the Henrico Way. Two and a half months later, our community is starting to see the easing of restrictions, but many of us are still working from home or in a more flexible capacity. Some employees have found the transition seamless while others have had to work much harder to adjust. With thousands of employees, in numerous departments that hold a variety of positions, it is impossible for this situation to look the same for everyone, but together we are One Henrico. Here is a look at how some employees have spent their last few months:
- How has your job or role changed since the “Stay at Home Order” began?
“It has not changed a lot. With the use of today’s technology, I am capable of doing my job offsite with little or no issues. Our Department uses Microsoft Teams and Webex to hold meetings with internal and external customers. Our customers have appreciated our responsiveness and business as usual during this time.” -Danielle Bazemore, Senior Controller, Department of Public Works
“There’s probably been more management and guidance of the current situation, and virtual reassurance than before.” -Bentley Chan, Acting Director, Department of Public Utilities
“My role has changed drastically… A couple years ago, I started supporting Cisco Webex. I had a few people inquire about it, the usage and meeting minutes were both low. Then COVID-19 and the “Stay at Home Order’ happened, and Cisco Webex usage has skyrocketed. Within the first 2 weeks, the County saw a 3755% increase in usage and 3309% increase in participants. The meeting minutes have increased from a few thousand to over 308,306 per month. My team has worked with so many departments and committees to create meetings, events and training, including the County Manager’s Office, Finance, Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, CRWP Board Meetings, community meetings, Fitness and Wellness, and Fire Training, each with their own unique requirements. My team even worked with the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Virginia Supreme Court to start holding preliminary hearings and bond hearings via Webex in the Henrico County General District Court.” -Kenny Mitchell, Senior System Developer, Department of Information Technology (IT)
“I have honestly been busier at home than when I am in the office. The outbreak of COVID has honestly not slowed down the development community much at all. It has created more questions on processes needing answers quickly. I have found myself working with our house IT person to come up with ways for our groups to communicate and stay in touch with each other such as Microsoft Teams. We have had some internal issues with routing of plans or phone calls at times which are bigger when everyone is working remotely so jumping on those and spending time to get them resolved.” -Michael McMillion, Business Manager, Department of Building Inspections
“Since my role is technology and support, the job itself has not changed, but some of the tasks have, as well as the urgency at times. I was able to get our department up and running remotely within the first two weeks and I was able to configure applications and equipment so I could offer seamless support remotely. This was a huge change in workflow. Remote support of remote operations can be a bit tricky and I have had to think outside of the box to resolve issues.” -Laura Siewert, Department of Public Relations Media Services
- How have you adapted to the changes?
“Physically, I’ve pretty much moved my office cubicle to my dining room table. I have a nice setup using my large monitor and port replicator from work along with a 19” monitor, wireless keyboard, and wireless mouse I had at home. The only thing missing is my nice office chair. Mentally, I feel like I have been so busy I hardly have time to take a break. Many days I find my calendar full of Webex appointments. When the reminder pops up, instead of walking or driving to a meeting, I see everyone involved in a ‘Brady Bunch’ grid view working from their dining room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.” -Kenny Mitchell
“I brought home extra computer equipment to create a home office in a corner of my dining room. I have been using WebEx and my cell phone to communicate as opposed to walking down the hallway. I do not go anywhere without my work cell as it is more difficult to anticipate needs when I am not in the office with a general idea of what people are working on.” -Laura Siewert
“Change for me is a constant so you really have to just go with the flow and adapt, improvise and overcome. It is challenging in that my wife also works for the County, so we have had to create separate workstations for each other to make sure we are not interfering in the other’s job. The outbreak is showing we have to be able to work wherever we are so the days of desktop computers may need to be replaced with laptops for associates. I have enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out how to make something work or how to create a new way to do a process we have.” -Michael McMillion
“By being more flexible and understanding of the nature of the situation and environment that we’re in. I’ve found that the community and reliance on each other during these times have helped immensely in keeping everything and each other going.” -Bentley Chan
- What has been the biggest challenge for you, your team, and/or your department?
“My biggest challenge has been taking the time to get up and stretch. I find myself sitting down to work at 8:00am. The next thing I know, the entire day has blown by. I quickly realized I was sitting way too much. I got a little better when Fitness and Wellness started hosting M/W/F workouts using Webex. From an IT perspective, the biggest challenge was going from a few people using the VPN connection to well over 1,000 connections. Some upgrades and licenses had to be purchased for the County to continue working. IT was also involved in distributing loaner laptops to users across the enterprise to support telework, bringing up multiple call centers, and creating new sites and apps in a very short period of time.” -Kenny Mitchell
“For me, the biggest challenge has definitely been keeping my two kids on task with schoolwork, cooking meals and still providing the immediate support some issues require. As a department it seemed our biggest challenge came in those first two weeks while everyone was working through frustrations of the remote process. I updated and repurposed laptops and other computer equipment for coworkers to take home so there was a learning curve with that as well. Fortunately, we were able to create a reliable and comfortable new normal and not get behind on work. I am very appreciative for my department’s willingness to utilize the remote process, new equipment and new applications!” -Laura Siewert
“By far the biggest challenge was when the outbreak started. The office workers in my department are not set up to work from home. We had to work with our in-house IT person and figure out how we can do our daily jobs as our customers need our assistance daily. Since then we are adapting to the ever-changing environment.” -Michael McMillion
“For us, it has been about keeping personal connections and relationships going without seeing each other in person. Before, it was very easy to walk down the hallway to talk with someone, and now you have to be very deliberate about seeing people virtually on Teams or Webex; to keep those interpersonal connections strong.” -Bentley Chan
- What have you found positive about the experience or hope to continue in the future?
“While I have missed the daily in person interaction with coworkers, I have enjoyed not having to physically commute for almost an hour to the office.” -Danielle Bazemore
“I may never come back to work …just kidding! I miss the human aspect of being in the office. I really enjoy seeing people use the tools IT provides. We have had a significant increase in our collaboration tools specifically. To me, it is very rewarding when I teach someone how these tools work and they think of ways to expand the use in their department. They have really enjoyed their time and greatly appreciate the patience I have shown them. Collaboration has been essential during this time and I think everyone, even those in IT, have realized how important it is.” -Kenny Mitchell
“I have loved having extra time at home with my kids! It is a bit overwhelming at times, but the comic relief is always right on time. It is refreshing to participate in video or phone calls from my patio on pleasant days. The change in location is nice for a brain and creativity boost. Our infrastructure is now set up to allow easier remote support of systems not previously set up for that. And the technology skills and random things we all learned through this process will stick with us even after we are back in the office.” -Laura Siewert
“While I would not want to do it every day, the ability to work from home has been nice. I think whenever we begin our new normal it would be beneficial to be able to work from home once a week especially since my office is showing we can still meet our goals and customer demands. I think the addition of a Microsoft Teams group for my staff will be something we will continue. It allows everyone to be connected all day.” -Michael McMillion
“Beyond the much, much shorter commute and relaxed dress code, it’s been enjoyable and positive to see others in their non-work environments and to be able to take the time to ask others about things in the background during video calls. We have found even more humor in jokes, virtual backgrounds, families, and pets. I think it has deepened all of our relationships past that of just work. We will continue to replace conference calls with video calls.” -Bentley Chan
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
“I am pleased with the way Henrico County handled the COVID-19 outbreak and the ‘Stay at Home Order’. As an employee I feel confident in my job stability and as a resident I feel well informed.” -Laura Siewert
“We talk a lot about resiliency and the ability to continue and bounce back from uncertain and difficult situations. It’s important for all of us to rely on each other and be able to rest, relax, and recharge to make our way through this.” -Bentley Chan
As you can see, some roles changed significantly while others mostly noticed a shorter commute. Some have had to juggle children or additional family members while trying to maintain a healthy work life balance. Regardless of the specifics, these past few months have certainly been a change for everyone, but together we are making it successful. As the County Manager said in a more recent email, “Our success is a reflection of your tireless work, professionalism and commitment to The Henrico Way of public service.…By working together, we have strengthened our capacities in these areas over the past two months and have built a strong foundation for the future.”