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Process Improvement

5 Tips for Serving Your Community Virtually

Marie Buchholz

Learn how you and your office can support the community virtually and safely.

Are you canceling or reducing your office hours to support social distancing? There are many alternatives available to continue serving your community while keeping your employees and the public safe, including these 5 things. 

1) Answer the call! Make sure that your published office telephone numbers are redirected to cellular lines, home numbers, or virtual auto-attendants where possible to make sure the public can reach you. If you have a recorded greeting or website, make sure to update your office availability with your revised hours and any changes to the process.  

2) Don’t forget your walk-ins and postal couriers! It’s easy to forget when everyone is sheltering in place, but you may have walk-ins attempt to visit. Make sure to leave a sign detailing how to contact your Building Department officials. Don’t forget your postal couriers and delivery people as well – be sure to provide direction for UPS, FedEx, DHL, or other couriers and carriers in your area. 

3) Avoid logjams (and COVID-19)! Think about your permitting, inspection, plan review, and code enforcement processes – are there inputs (forms) or outputs (reports) that can be processed electronically to keep your processes moving? Consult with your internal IT for privacy and licensing concerns. These are a few ideas to keep working and communicating virtually: 

  • Collection point at an essential service: This is the low-tech solution of a physical folder or “inbox” left at your fire department HQ, police station, or another essential service office that will remain open. Send someone to collect documents or have them mailed to the designated person on a regular basis. 
  • Email: An oldie, but a goodie. Can your staff access email remotely? Are the email addresses to begin and support your processes online and on your forms? What about shared email addresses? 
  • Web forms: Leverage your website! Use quick form creation tools like JotForm, iAuditor, Smartsheet, and others to quickly and inexpensively create online forms to capture data and kick-start processes. 
  • File transfer: Need to share files with your team or constituents? File-sharing services like Box, Dropbox and OneDrive allow you to exchange files like using a shared network drive. You can email links and set alerts to keep track of activity. 
  • Automation: Work smarter not harder with automation platforms like Power Automate, Zapier, and Tray.io. Cloud-based automation allows you to create notifications, flows, automatic updates and data moves between your online tools. Most are free to try. 
  • Workflow systems: If you aren’t using an online platform already, consider one of our building department workflow products, CommunityCore or Gov-Easy, to take your process fully electronic. Contact your account manager at help@safebuilt.com for details. 

4) Free your desktop from the office! With a home Internet connection and a personal computer, your team can have a secure office workstation without the office. Work with your IT contacts to leverage secure Internet-based Virtual Desktop and Remote Application solutions that can connect to your existing networks and services.   

  • DaaS (desktop-as-a-service): Turn-key services like Dizzion, AWS Workspace and Windows Virtual Desktop create custom “virtual computers”, with your own software packages and security, that can be logged into from any computer with an Internet connection. Pricing is flexible and easily scalable to help quickly respond to closures. 
  • Hybrid deliver solutions:  Citrix Cloud Services and VMWare Horizon can be integrated with your current IT infrastructure to provide workers with remote access to the systems and services in the office with the feel of being there. 

5) Don’t let the social distance separate you! 

  • Get together…while apart: Leverage online conferencing and collaboration tools like Zoom, Teams, and GoToMeeting for chat, video conference, screen sharing, and more. Many of these platforms are running special emergency incentives (see the Inc. article below), and they work on nearly any computer or mobile device.  
  • Flip that camera: SAFEbuilt is proud to announce we are working with some communities to promote remote video inspections using tools like FaceTime, Zoom, and Teams. Contact help@safebuilt.com for more. 
  • Conference in the community: Everyone’s home, so why not join a town-hall or council meeting? Communities are using remote solutions like Zoom Video Webinars and GoToMeeting Webinar to increase public involvement with civic government. Video feeds, moderated guests, and Q&A allow you to involve your citizens in real-time. 

We’re all in this together! During the COVID-19 impact, some tech companies are doing their part by temporarily offering their services in free or reduced promotions. Check out this short article in Inc. magazine to see some of the resources available from Microsoft, Google, and others. 

SAFEbuilt and our family of brands are here to help. Our community technology experts are available to answer your questions and share our experience with any of these technologies. Email us at help@safebuilt.com to discuss solutions for the immediate challenges you face. 

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