On March 17, 2020, Netsmart associates received an email few are likely to forget. In unison with organizations across the country, Netsmart shifted to a completely remote workforce in light of the quickly growing COVID-19 pandemic.
The entire Netsmart community was affected by this overnight transition to a virtual work l structure, however business as usual continued. While associates were able to seamlessly continue their day-to-day from the safety of their virtual work locations, it wasn’t without the help and support of one team in particular.
The Netsmart Enterprise IT team played a critical role in keeping Netsmart business operations up and running across the country during the stay-at-home orders of the COVID-19 pandemic. Senior Vice President of IT Hosting, Todd Churchill, shares his team’s story on how they were able to assemble, support and maintain an unexpected full-time virtual workforce amidst a global pandemic.
In all my years of IT experience, I can honestly say we never ran a Disaster Recovery drill for a pandemic. Hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, you name it, we had practiced it. But when associates were sent home last March, none of us really knew what to fully expect from the pandemic.
Regardless of the unfamiliarity of the situation, our team adapted and adapted quickly. Initial challenges came with associates managing their own work environment virtually. We’re used to just arriving each morning at our desks and having everything work. Then that mentality suddenly shifted to a new complexity of home WiFi with some people having to work out of various spaces within their homes and other locations.
The initial transition
The team immediately stepped up and helped with virtual trainings on how to use Teams and Zoom, getting everyone familiar with those tools in order to continue to collaborate and continue to work smoothly. Those applications were core in our ability to work virtually. While they’re not necessarily that hard to operate, they’re critical. Our IT End Point team also worked to ensure laptops and Windows applications were getting installed, working well securely while associates remained virtual.
While the Enterprise IT team continued to operate fully remote as a team, there are some things with technology that just can’t be fixed over the phone. Our Service Desk team returned to office about a month after the mandatory city shutdown. Pandemic or not, people have network and hardware issues, laptops still break, and they need in person assistance. Our team was here for them.
In the case of new hires, we collaborated with HR to FedEx laptops basically across the street, trying as best we could to give a safe, seamless and easy onboarding experience virtually. Our team was here to ensure people safely got the help and tools they needed.
Overall, the entire IT team did an awesome job of process development – anticipating where the biggest issues may arise and determining how to handle those issues. We were all learning at the same time, but our IT team was serving as a go-to resource for associates as we were faced with this new normal. Once we got people transitioned to virtual, they began to realize their jobs had not changed. But as much as our jobs stayed the same, processes and approaches did not.
Prior innovation and experience paid off
While the pandemic drill wasn’t on our list of Disaster Recovery drills, we did have one instance that gave us a mini test run. Thanks to a massive ice storm in January of 2020, many of our associates throughout the country were forced to work virtually for at least a day or two. We completed upgrades to remote connectivity and supported almost three-quarters of the company during that storm across our offices. It was a great test – even though we had no idea what we were being tested for. I think that storm gave us confidence that we could be successful for our COVID-remote success.
Needless to say, the pivot to a remote workforce due to a viral pandemic was unfamiliar territory. However, we laid a lot of IT groundwork ahead of time that would help get us through the trials that COVID would bring.
Our investments and upgrades to support a fast-growing workforce such as VPNS, Office 365, video conferencing, and even laptops to support remote work were made well before the pandemic, putting us in a fortunate spot come last March.
It’s about more than the technology
It would be dishonest to say COVID did not present plenty of IT challenges, however I still think the biggest challenge for our team one was that loss of person-to-person connection. It was such a change to not see fellow associates every day, learning to conduct meetings on camera, reminding each other to click the “unmute” button.
Looking back a year later, I think it’s ironically made us all a lot more connected, which will grow even more now that we’ve returned to Netsmart offices throughout the country.
That all being said, it was the people who got us through last year, not just the technology. Like I always say, it’s about people, process, product and partnership. Any success always starts with people. And in this case, our people are the heroes. You have to love the resiliency of people in human nature.
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