This past year, many companies with frontline and essential workers needed to quickly pivot their business communications to ensure they had a solution that allowed their workers to be mobile throughout the day. Stacie DePeau, Chief Information Officer at Easterseals Southern California (ESSC), recently participated in a panel of Fuze customers during our virtual productfest 2020. During the conversation, she shared what the transition using Fuze for remote and flexible work during COVID-19 has been like for ESSC.
Easterseals is an American nonprofit providing disability services, with additional support areas serving veterans and military families, seniors, and caregivers. By definition, their services are provided in person to the affected individuals and their families. After initially closing over 55 sites in 24 hours at the onset of quarantine, the ESSC team needed to figure out how to get their programs up and running again in an effective and safe manner. Luckily, the transition to remote work was relatively easy, since the company has been a Fuze customer since 2018.
For ESSC, it was important that their communications solution have the mobility and flexibility that their team members needed to provide services both on the go and at any of their locations. Below are DePeau’s answers from the recent customer panel, moderated by Fuze CMO Eric Hanson:
Eric Hanson: What has been your experience during COVID-19? How did you and your teams respond?
Stacie DePeau: Related to COVID, I think we had 24-hours' notice and we had 55, a little over that, maybe almost 60 sites that we had to shut down from providing care. It was one of those things that was not an easy transition at all, but having Fuze made it a little more palatable, because it didn't matter where people were. They took their laptops with them, and so that made it a little easier.
Now we've got kind of a whole hybrid environment going, where we've got some people that are getting teleservices, we've got other people that are especially high need that are coming into offices, we still have 22 residential homes that had to remain open and actually had an increase in demand on services, because the people who are high need in those residential homes can't go anywhere now. There's no place that's a healthy safe place for them to really be able to go.
It's been a lot of moving parts, and we ran into issues too with some of our high needs people—they used to come into centers, now they don't have internet, don't have a device, and so we created a technology lending library where we distributed over 500 devices to people who didn't have internet and/or devices to be able to stay connected while they were safe at home.
Eric Hanson: Flexibility was part of your original requirements for a communications solution, just based on the number of people that you had that were mobile-first. As you were thinking about making the move to UCaaS, and mobility being one of the primary requirements, how did that help as you were making the transition? How did that flexibility help in terms of enabling your workforce to be on something that had better continuity between the home offices and those mobile workers?
Stacie DePeau: We have about 3,000 associates within our organization and more than 2,500 of them are mobile, because we have those 80 sites total. The majority of our staff is in the community with our clients, and part of our staffing structure is them being able to work in different homes on different days or in different centers, so travel is a big part of what we do throughout our communities. Yes. The flexibility of being able to be anywhere on whatever device that's convenient, whether it's the iPad or their smartphone or the laptop or a desktop, that was a big factor for us.
Then, obviously, moving things into the cloud and off of anything premises based out here was primarily driven by, at the time, concern for natural disasters like earthquakes or wildfires. The concept of the whole pandemic never even occurred to me as being a reality of something that was imminent, but we had most people shifted over, and they had the tools available.
Eric Hanson: What about adoption and engagement with your staff?
Stacie DePeau: We had some adoption issues where folks who were still using text messaging on their phone and stuff like that. The pandemic has certainly helped us with adoption in terms of using the video phones, we started with IT and said, "If you have a meeting, IT has to have their video on because we really want to model this practice." It started expanding from there. IT did it, the leadership team did it, and it really started to filter out.
We had much better engagement with all of our associates having that video turned on. It made a big difference for us. But I think it would have been a lot harder if the pandemic had hit and we hadn't had Fuze already implemented, because at least it was out there. They knew how to do the messaging, they knew how to do meetings; they had that, they just weren't fully utilizing it.
Eric Hanson: I’ve heard that IT should be given budget if the company sees the value in the communications platform and wants company-wide adoption. You should actually be given the green light to actually have some resources for that purpose [marketing the product]. Stacie, how about your experience? Any comments on this?
Stacie DePeau: It’s marketing. What we're doing in IT is a critical component [of company operations], and there's only so much that the end users get the first time they use the product; so they'll walk away with “I can do this, and this is what I need, and this is all I need.” Then, they kind of forget about the rest.
We came up with, essentially, a marketing program called “Tips and Tricks” that we send out about twice a month—either on Tuesdays or Thursdays depending on what the other organizational communications are. We'll talk about successful web meetings, and how to use your video, and how to mute background noise, and all these different things regardless of whether it's Fuze or whether some of our other tools. That has become a big part of our success, is that ongoing education of, "Did you know, you can use start star to switch devices?" Or different little things that seem small, but make a big difference, but they're not within the realm of what users are going to get through their first round of training.
Eric Hanson: One of our questions had to do with standardizing on hardware, right? Whether it's headsets, cameras, now that a lot of people are working from home, how are you handling sort of centrally managing that, making those recommendations, ensuring that people have the best experience?
Stacie DePeau: We started having those conversations about, do we really want to be in a headset business? Where I want this headset, I want that headset, I want this, I want that and we're like, "Oh gosh. We just don't want to get into that with 3,000 people."
So anybody who had a desk, we actually did put phones on the desk. We’re a 100-year-old organization, it's very traditional and IT is not necessarily an easy transition for them, making changes with IT, so anybody who had a desk phone, we gave a desk phone. Everybody who got mobile devices, we did the wired headsets, and then we posted a list on the intranet of other compatible devices that we recommended, like the personal speaker phones or different wireless Bluetooth headsets, things like that.
They could purchase those on their own in their departments. We didn't even go through the process of purchasing, because we didn't want to deal with returns and “I don't like this” and “this didn't fit right” and whatever. It's like, "Here's what's compatible, you can purchase that and expense it through your own organization."
Eric Hanson: Relative to Bluetooth devices, did you notice a sort of issue with saturation on Bluetooth channels that you had to mitigate for and how did you do that? How did you manage that?
Stacie DePeau: For Easterseals, we didn't, but I don't think we really saw this take off with the Bluetooth and the headsets from within an office. Within an office they use the equipment that was there. They'd use the phone, that type of thing. The Bluetooth really didn't explode for us until we had everybody outside of the offices... and that's where that went up, so we didn't have that compatibility issue.
Eric Hanson: One of the questions that came in was: so if you could go back to the early days of the quarantine, what would you do differently?
Stacie DePeau: Setting expectations on the office closures and our ability to go into the office. What's hard about that though, is nobody knew [what was coming]. We had had at the executive level, we had had those conversations about this isn't going to be short-term, do we plan for two months or three months? We had even had some of those conversations about this could be something really long and we may need to make a fundamental shift in the business. But I think that was such a stark possibility, nobody wanted to face that reality at the time.
Eric Hanson: Lastly, will your workforce move towards something that's more hybrid or flexible? What do you think the future holds for your company?
Stacie DePeau: I think a lot of our workforce is going to end up going back into the facilities, because that was a big part of what the service is; it gets people out of their homes where they can go and be with others and do activities and things like that. I think from that perspective, we're going to end up moving back into offices when we can.
We have, however, seen some significant success with having teleservices for the autism services, which relieves a huge burden on the parents. We had a lot of initial resistance to it, but now that they're seeing success with doing it, it removes their time to commute to one of our facilities to be able to get services and it saves them time on either end. I think for those services that don't have to be, and their express purpose isn't the socialization aspect, I think those we're going to see maintain a hybrid environment where maybe 75% of the services are teleservices and they only come in onto a facility once a week or once a month kind of thing.
To learn more about Easterseals Southern California, you can visit their website.