During the time of people being asked to stay at home and, if possible, work remotely from home as well, in Wright County, a lot of employees have been asked to step up and take on the challenges associated with living in a world that has been altered dramatically by COVID-19.
That has been especially true for the Wright County Information Technology Department. It was tasked with trying to make working off-site as similar as possible to employees working at their desks in county facilities.
One of those unsung IT members is Mark Staller.
He was tasked with converting voicemail messages into an email format, so an employee wouldn’t have to be in the office to receive a missed call.
When it became apparent that employees deemed as non-essential to the functioning of offices and departments would be sent home, Staller was given a list from department heads of whose phones required the conversion to email function and there were a lot of them.
“I probably hooked up 300 or 400 phones in three days,” Staller said. “It’s taken some time, but we knew we had to get it done fast because a lot of employees were going to be working away from their desks and wouldn’t be able to get their voicemails.”
This technology wasn’t something brand new. The county has had that system in place, but not many employees knew about and even fewer used it.
When county leadership was assessing how having half its workforce or more working remotely, Information Technology let them know that this feature was available and could be activated on a wide scale relatively quickly.
“We hadn’t really advertised it, but we knew we had the capability if it was needed,” Staller said. “I told our management that when they were in department head meetings, they could offer that up at any time. When this (pandemic) happened, everyone started taking us up on it. It’s been available for a while and we had done it one or two at a time for those who wanted it, just not at the scale we had to do this.”
Staller became a solo army in this process, because, while the IT Department has been mobilizing effort and employees have been performing job duties that aren’t part of their normal workload, in this instance, Staller was on his own to get the job done – which took on a new meaning when 180 requests came from Health & Human Services alone in a single day.
“It’s definitely been a team effort,” Staller said. “A lot of people have been doing work they normally wouldn’t be doing just to get things done. In my situation, it was just me doing it because the ‘how-to’ document is pretty confusing the first few times you do it. I knew how it worked, so I just kept at this project by myself because it was quicker.”
When the COVID-19 crisis finally goes away, Staller doesn’t expect that employees will go back to the old system. In fact, there will be an opportunity in the coming months for employees to expand on the system that he helped install to connect voicemail and email.
“I think most people are going to keep it because they have a copy of the voicemail in their email box,” Staller said. “We’re heading toward unified communications. On the telecom side, your phone, voicemail, email and calendar are going to eventually get merged into one application. We don’t have that now with our current system, but when we move to our new system that will be a feature.”
At a time when the new normal is unfortunately morphing into standard practice, Wright County employees have answered the call to accomplish tasks that benefit not only the employees, but residents who are calling in to county offices and going to voicemail.
Staller was a one man gang on the voicemail project and his effort has made the working lives of many county employees and residents calling into empty offices run much smoother than it possibly could have if not for his persistence to get the task accomplished.