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The COVID-19 crisis has pulled the curtain back on how ill-prepared we are as a society to deal with a global pandemic. Typical business continuity plans had not addressed the circumstances we have all faced over these past several weeks. Shelter-in-home orders, social distancing, PPEs (personal protective equipment), all, are terms that were completely unfamiliar to most of us when the New Year’s Eve ball dropped in Time Square some 90+ days ago.

Government offices, agencies, and jurisdictions, are working diligently to adapt to this new world as are most companies, large and small, within the United States. Do we stay open? How do we protect our employees if we remain open? What are the limits of the type of work we should be performing during this time? What legal implications are there in the workplace given COVID-19? What will public perception be if we close the doors? How will we re-open? If an employee becomes ill, what actions can be taken legally, ethically, and morally? All these questions and more are front and center in this war against the novel Coronavirus.

As local Building Officials, City Managers, and Mayors prepare to go remote, SAFEbuilt has identified 7 critical areas to consider as you shift your operations from traditional in-office settings to a remote workplace:

1. Handling customer inquiries

What process do you have in place for accepting and routing incoming calls to the main phone number? With people working remotely, how will calls be routed and handled as they come into the building department? Setting up a phone bridge is a necessary step to ensure that you maintain the best level of responsiveness to your community residents. Establishing service level agreements (SLA) and communicating them via a recorded message will also help set the tone for what residents can expect. If your SLA is to return calls within 24 hours, then state that clearly on your recording.

2. Leveraging remote collaboration tools

Working remotely, especially for team mates that have not done this before, can be challenging. Feelings of isolation can impact the quality or work and productivity. Fortunately, there are a variety of collaboration tools available that can help keep people connected while maintaining a team environment. Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime are just a few options that leverage video conferencing as a way to keep people connected. These tools help keep employees in sync, and are also being used to increase the level of personalization with customers during this self-quarantine period.

3. We’re Open for Business

Check the nuances of your local and state official orders. Shelter-in-place requires a different set of actionsthan a stay-at-home order. It’s important to distinguish between the two and to know which of these orders are in effect. As a result of these orders, governments of all levels have issued statements referencing “essential” businesses. The problem is that there is no clear cut, consistent definition of which types of businesses fall within the essential category. State by state, municipality by municipality, building departments, developers, contractors, and suppliers of products and services need to verify their level of essentiality. As a final note related to being open for business, many jurisdictions have set up a physical drop box to provide developers and contractors with the ability to drop off plans for plan review. In some cases, working with a partner like SAFEbuilt, we can provide an electronic drop box where plans can be submitted electronically and reviewed and managed digitally.

4. Updating your residents

Communities of all sizes are being impacted by this current crisis. Residents and businessesalike are looking for up-to-date information on local infrastructure services. Create a dedicated section of the jurisdictions website that is highly visible and easy to access. Provide regular updates on the crisis, create and post content that reinforces and reminds community members of recommendations and orders posted by the State and Federal government, or affiliated agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

5. Create and publish a Daily Situation Report

A SITREPORT, commonly referred to by NIMS, the National Incident Management System, is a standardized report that focuses on the critical functional areas of an operation. The main sections of a SITREPORT include the following: Management Update, Operations Update, Planning & Intelligence Update, Logistics (HR) Update, and Finance Update.

Assign a leader for each of these functional areas to provide daily updates to be included in this published report and make it available to your staff via an intranet site or sent directly via email. This level, and frequency of reporting will help maintain clarity of priorities and operational issues or challenges.

6. Warn against Phishing and other tech breaches

Unfortunately, crises tend to produce an increased level of crime, and potential breaches of security. Remind your staff to be vigilant in their use of email and the internet. Phishing scams are prevalent as criminals focus on using the fear and uncertainty of a crisis to gain access to personal information. Don’t open emails from thoseyou don’t recognize, and don’t click on links of attachments sent from someone you don’t know.

7. Establish daily check-ins

Keeping your team connected and in sync is critical during a time of crisis. Working remotely, due to a stay-at-home order makes this needed connection that much more difficult. Set daily check-ins with your staff. Morning huddles for 15 minutes helps keep people connected while implementing a form of operational rigor. Of course, the time allotted depends on the size of your staff. Have a set agenda for these calls. A best practice is to have each team member provide insight into the last 24 hours, this 24 hours, and the next 24 hours. Basically, the team needs to be aligned on what’s taken place, what is taking place, and what work isrequired to continue progress.

Consistent communication is the most critical element to maintaining control in times of crisis. Communicate often, leveraging facts, while providing as much transparency as possible without overcommitting.

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SAFEbuilt is a community development services company. We provide comprehensive building department, private provider, and other professional services with the goal of helping our customers build better, safer communities.