TLOS staff have held many workshops over the past 18 months and faculty participation has skyrocketed. Staff also held one-on-one and ministerial consultations.
Equally important, the TLOS team has created a community. Each area of Virginia Tech experienced issues unique to that area during the pandemic, so TLOS recruited many other members of the campus community, including academic support, faculty, graduate students, and IT professionals. distributed to help with planning, attend workshops and participate in consultations. Forming what Pike called the “Continuity Partner Group” facilitated many important and productive conversations, with TLOS serving as an umbrella.
“I am very proud of the way my team came together to meet these challenges,” said Pike. “I would be remiss if I tried to claim credit for all the important work that has happened in these conversations that we have just convened. We have used our networks in multiple ways to bring people together and have given them the flexibility to go in the directions that work best for them. Once the job was done, we put the information together to tell the story.
“I think it’s easy to get lonely when you’re working in a crisis, and I think hearing what you do is similar to what they do, it also fostered a sense of community and a trust that we’re doing everything we can do.
HELPING THOSE WHO WORK AT HOME
To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, officials at Virginia Tech have decided to allow employees to work from home during the pandemic. Most employees are given laptops once they start working at college, giving them the opportunity to be productive and accessible when not available for the office.
For the most part, things went well, but a few issues came to the fore. Many Virginia Tech employees work in remote areas – places like Giles, Floyd, Craig and Pulaski counties – and many of those areas lack strong broadband capabilities. Without consistent internet access, many employees expressed frustration at being able to provide their best efforts to Virginia Tech.
Many of these employees relied on IT staff for advice in managing their broadband issues, and these staff were able to provide best practices. But broadband access in rural areas needs to be tackled on a much larger scale.
“Yeah, we’ve dealt with that,” Midkiff said. “In our area, a lot of Blacksburg, we have very good broadband. Is it too expensive or not? You can tell, but you can get decent broadband in Blacksburg.
“But we have employees who don’t get good cell service where they live, let alone Internet connectivity. We had a lot of people who were really challenged there, so how do we help? We have worked with some people. How do you stay productive while working on a slower connection? In the longer term, the region is stressed how important it is to improve broadband for economic viability.
Another issue was the significant increase in the use of email. Collaborative Computing Solutions, another division of the IT unit, had begun an overhaul of how email works at the university before the pandemic began, as employees worked from home and used email more to communicate. Other universities, companies, organizations, etc. did the same, putting pressure on messaging systems.
“We were getting around 1.5 to 2 million emails per day. These are people sending emails to vt.edu addresses, ”said Marc DeBonis, director of Collaborative Computing Solutions. “Our employees sent between 70,000 and 80,000 outgoing emails per day.
“We took over the ownership of the email service at the university. We said, “There has to be a better way to do this,” and we were upgrading the infrastructure when the pandemic hit. In the end, we succeeded, and we succeeded in a way that minimizes the impact on users. “
DeBonis and his team have also seen increased use of other collaborative tools offered by the university. Managers, supervisors, and the like started hosting meetings through Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams, and they started communicating through messaging platforms like Slack.
“In about March, usage grew from 5,000 direct messages per day to over 15,000,” DeBonis said. “It was a three to four bump. People still communicated by email, but they no longer went to other people’s booths to chat. They were using these tools, and it was a huge push.
“They were kind of niche tools. Only people who knew them were using them before March 2020. Suddenly everyone said to everyone, “Our team is using it. Go ahead ‘or,’ Our team is using this. Go here. ‘ We were trying to promote our best practices with everyone… we have increased our training a lot, so that people can get used to these tools.