There aren’t many who haven’t been impacted in a profound way by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands have died across the country. Places where people typically gather in large groups have been eliminated, whether it has been schools, malls, airports, sporting events, movie theatres, concerts, bars, restaurants or playgrounds.
Wright County government has been no different. Anyone who has been through the Government Center in Buffalo over the couple of weeks can attest it has the look of a ghost town with few if any people walking in the hallways of what typically is a bustling hub of activity.
The difference for county employees is that is virtually impossible to completely shut down operations because of the necessary services the county provides its residents. At the April 7 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, the board took the opportunity to thank the Information Technology Department for answering the many challenges it faced since late March when the executive order came down from Gov. Tim Walz to shelter in place and stay at home.
It was a daunting task to attempt to connect the large segment of the county workforce that was going to be asked to work remotely, yet have the technology to accomplish their work tasks and services to the public without physically being at their desks.
Commissioner Mark Daleiden called up Information Technology Director Matthew Fomby at the board meeting to offer his appreciation for the effort IT workers have done to keep the county operational.
“I wanted to thank you and whole IT Department for stepping up to get everybody going to be able to work from home,” Daleiden said. “We’re still functional. A lot of things that we’ve been doing at the county we’re still doing – just remotely.”
Fomby said the pandemic has brought out the best in his employees. As issues have arisen, groups of IT employees have banded together to get the specific mission accomplished. It hasn’t been perfect and it hasn’t been easy, but Fomby said he is proud of the work his employees have done during the crisis to keep Wright County moving forward in difficult times.
“We’ve had little problems here and there – there are always hiccups,” Fomby said. “A lot of them are fixable. Some of them are long-term. This is something none of us anticipated. It’s something we really couldn’t prepare for. We’ve been (doing) a lot of really good work, but there’s also a lot of spit, grit and duct tape just to hold it all together. But, in the big picture, we’re doing very well – exceptionally well – and some of the problems we’ve come up against have been overcome with a tremendous amount of effort.”
Fomby noted one employee who stayed up all night when the decision was made to have as many employees as possible work remotely to enable 180 laptops at Health & Human Services to be able to receive voicemails from their work phone to get forwarded to their email, as well converting work computers to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to connect them from an off-site location, allowing the Public Health hotline to be able to receive text messages and connecting employees into a conference call system so they can virtually attend county board and committee meetings.
With uncertainty as to how long the current stay at home plan will remain in place and how long it will be until work life returns to what it was prior to the COVID-19 outbreak is uncertain. But, Fomby said his employees will continue to be on the front line tackling issues as they arise and keeping note of where they find inadequacies in their systems as a blueprint moving forward when the pandemic recedes.
“The business analyst team has been working behind the scenes and delivering a tremendous amount of work,” Fomby said. “The problems we’re facing, we’re putting a ‘lessons learned’ effort together so we can address it in the future. We know that this is unusual, but I think the whole team – don’t praise me by any stretch of the imagination – has done an exceptional amount of work. We have people working on all fronts.”