TLOS staff have hosted many workshops over the past 18 months and faculty attendance has skyrocketed. Staff also held individual consultations and departmental consultations.
Just as important, however, the TLOS team has created a community. Each area of Virginia Tech has experienced issues exclusive to that area during the pandemic, so TLOS has recruited many others from across the campus community, including academic support, faculty, graduate students, and IT professionals. spread out to help with planning, attend workshops and participate in consultations. The formation of what Pike called the “continuity partner group” facilitated many important and productive conversations, with TLOS serving as an umbrella.
“I’m very proud of how my team came together to meet these challenges,” Pike said. “I would be remiss in trying to claim credit for all the important work that has gone into these conversations that we just hosted. We used our networks in multiple ways to bring people together and gave them the flexibility to go in the directions that worked best for them. Once the job was done, we put together the information to tell the story.
“I think it’s easy to feel lonely when you’re working in a crisis, and I think hearing what you’re doing is similar to what they’re doing, so it’s also fostered a sense of community and trust. that we’re doing all we can do.
HELPING THOSE WHO WORK FROM HOME
To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, Virginia Tech officials decided to allow employees to work from home during the pandemic. Most employees receive laptops once they start working at college, giving them the ability to be productive and accessible when they’re not available in the office.
For the most part, things went smoothly, but a few issues came to the fore. Many Virginia Tech employees work in outlying areas — places like Giles, Floyd, Craig, and Pulaski counties — and many of those areas lack strong broadband capabilities. Without constant Internet access, many employees have expressed frustration at being able to provide their best efforts to Virginia Tech.
Many of these employees relied on IT staff for guidance in managing their broadband issues, and these staff members were able to provide best practices. But broadband access in rural areas needs to be tackled on a much larger scale.
“Yeah, we handled that,” Midkiff said. “In our area, much of Blacksburg, we have very good broadband. Is it too expensive or not? You can argue that, but you can get decent broadband in Blacksburg.
“But we have employees who don’t have good cell service where they live, let alone internet connectivity. We had a lot of really challenged people there, so how can we help? We worked with some people. How do you stay productive while working on a slower connection? In the longer term, the region is shown how important improving broadband is for economic viability.
Another problem revolved around the significant increase in the use of email. Collaborative IT solutions, another division of the IT unit, had launched an overhaul of how email worked at the university before the pandemic hit, as employees worked from home and used email more to communicate. Other universities, companies, organizations, etc. were doing the same, putting pressure on messaging systems.
“We were getting around 1.5 to 2 million emails a day. These are people sending email to vt.edu addresses,” said Marc DeBonis, director of Collaborative Computing Solutions. “Our employees were sending between 70,000 and 80,000 outbound emails per day.
“We had taken care of the e-mail service at the university. We said, “There has to be a better way to do this,” and we were upgrading the infrastructure when the pandemic hit. In the end, we succeeded, and we succeeded in a way that minimized the impact on users. »
DeBonis and his team have also seen increased use of other collaborative tools offered by the university. Department heads, supervisors and others started holding meetings via Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, and they started communicating via messaging platforms like Slack.
“Near the March period, usage grew from 5,000 direct messages a day to over 15,000,” DeBonis said. “It was a three to four times bump. People were still communicating via email, but they weren’t going to each other’s cubicles to talk things over. They were using these tools, and it was a huge increase.
“They were sort of niche tools. Only people who knew about them used them before March 2020. Suddenly everyone was saying to everyone, ‘Our team is using this. Go ahead’, or ‘Our team use this. Go here.’ We were trying to push our best practices with everyone…we increased our training a bit, so people could get used to these tools.