Technology Provides Social Distancing Options for Work

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The difference between how society functioned during the Spanish Flu of 1918 and the novel coronavirus pandemic today is technology and how virtual worlds are helping businesses and governments to remain operational and informational.

Such tools and technology vary, including Google Hangouts, Zoom.us, GoToMeeting, Slack, Skype/MSFT, Hubspot or Hipchat. These platforms enable businesses to work from virtual offices and give people who may be isolated the ability to communicate using Facebook Live or other social media platforms.

During a press conference Friday, Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said they will use virtual communication both internally and externally with Zoom for staff and cabinet meetings.

“Government has to keep running and we will. We’ll be doing it in a different way,” Franklin said.

Brown says no conference rooms will be used and he encourages all meetings to be done via phones or using Zoom or Skype to eliminate groups of people and maintain social distancing.

Franklin and Brown say staff are identifying employees who can work remotely from home, and are working to assist employees with child care needs who are impacted by the closure of schools, including those who need to work from home.

“We are trying to do all of this in a family-friendly manner,” Franklin said.

Three weeks ago, 898 Marketing started planning and taking steps to continue to serve customers while keeping staff members safe during the coronavirus pandemic. The marketing agency is employing virtual solutions available through a number of technology platforms.

On Friday, 898 directed all employees to work remotely from home in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. All weekly and special meetings will be hosted virtually using GoToMeeting, says Jeffrey Ryznar, owner of 898 Marketing.

Company employees will use email and phone to connect with clients while implementing Slack, a free online project management solution for communication, sharing, notifications and project-tracking for internal operations.

Ryznar also suggests businesses use Basecamp, which offers similar features. He says his team is available for consultation and will work with businesses to get them transitioned.

“As we start to go into social distancing, businesses will be judged on how well they adapt to new rules and recommendations that govern the way they operate,” Ryznar says. “The tools are not only abundant but convenient in allowing us to work in maintaining a productive economy and society under these unique circumstances.”

In a video message sent to students, Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel said the university will use spring break week to get technology and other needs in place so students can return to a virtual world of learning. Students will still be able to earn the credits necessary to graduate, he said.

“It might be virtual but we’re going to progress,” Tressel said.

When the Poland Local School District announced closures last week, Ellie Platt, owner of Platt Insurance Group, realized she needed to take steps so her employees could work remotely. While the company is assessing its options to work remotely, the company’s phone system has the capability to integrate with employees’ mobile phones so calls coming into the office can be answered from any location.

“We’ve not gone remote yet. We closed our doors as of Thursday to any walk-in traffic,” Platt says. “In each office, we have a handful of people and everybody’s comfortable because there aren’t people just coming in. We’re assessing that today, if we’re just going to go fully remote.”

She says the first step was getting the app downloaded to employees’ cell phones and to purchase remote licenses as the company does not use laptops for wireless communication.

Like the cities of Youngstown and Warren, where individuals make payments in-person, like at the water department, Platt says customers make in-person payments for their insurance coverage. While Youngstown and Warren have limited access to paying bills in-person, they have arranged pay-by-phone options.

“We still take payments in our office and that’s one of our concerns. We need someone there to process payments because otherwise their insurance will cancel. We may end up just having one or two people in each office just to process payments,” Platt says. “There has been some conversation that insurance companies might give a break for payments. That could help, but right now we have to be in there. We get a lot of people paying with cash and money orders and it’s difficult for them to just call in with a card over the phone.”

The Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board staff are working from their offices for now, but laptop computers have been purchased if work needs to be performed remotely.

“I have purchased six laptops for key staff members so that they may work from home if necessary,” said April Caraway, board director. “We are also purchasing a conference call line to make sure that communication with key agencies and local and state officials can continue.”

Caraway says her staff have separate offices, which assists in the recommended physical distancing of at least six feet. Hygiene safety precautions are being practiced and staff have been instructed to stay home if they are ill, Caraway says.

“We have canceled all face-to-face meetings and are on the phone or in email contact with behavioral health agencies, state and local officials and partner social service agencies, she says. “Every day, new directives come out of the governor’s office and we are being flexible and responsive to continue to help people in need.”

The Board of Directors meeting scheduled for Tuesday has been cancelled.

Beginning today, telephone communication will replace in-person home visits to 5,000 elderly and/or people with disabilities whose care is managed or coordinated under Direction Home of Eastern Ohio, said Cassandra Valentini, community liaison.

These workers either case-manage or coordinate the in-home services a person receives through state programs such as CareSource, United Health Care, PASSPORT or Mahoning County Levy Services.

This does not affect home health aides who provide services such as bathing and cooking. Those workers are employed by individual companies and they will continue to make home visits.

Valentini says a skeleton crew will be in the offices and divisions will rotate on a weekly basis to come into the office for business transactions like mailing and files.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.