When summarizing the past year and a half, Terry Decker describes it best as “a boomerang.” “In March 2020, we shifted to support our constituents so they could succeed in an online setting,” he said. “Now, in anticipation of fall 2021, we’re preparing to reintroduce the Robinson community to an on-campus environment.”
Last spring, Robinson faculty and staff scurried home to get their own offices up and running. But Decker, the college’s director of College Technology Services (CTS), was responsible for everyone’s personal set-up, from a hardware standpoint. Students got top priority. No matter what it took, CTS delivered laptops to students who needed one in order to attend remote classes: each sanitized and sealed in a plastic bag, via mail or curbside pick-up.
“We provided more than 200 laptops to students, faculty, and staff,” Decker said.
Professionals must be reachable by not only email but also by phone. The Building Operations team oversees Robinson’s implementation of Cisco, the university’s phone system. When the pandemic hit, the unit worked with faculty and staff to ensure calls were correctly forwarded to their cell phones, and to activate Cisco’s voicemail-to-email feature. In some cases, people requested to take their office chairs, or for entire desks to be shipped to their homes.
“We primarily provide service to people in our buildings, so we really had to pivot,” said Jodie Harper, director of Robinson Building Operations. “We had to figure out what people needed to work from home.”
Once faculty and staff got into a teleworking groove, Harper seized the opportunity to accomplish tasks she constantly got pulled away from during pre-Covid times. Two biggies include developing a 90-page standard operating procedures document outlining the three-person Building Operations team’s functions, as well as an onboarding guide for new Robinson employees.
“Now the departments can clearly visualize everything needed to set up a new employee, like an office key and signage, hardware, and a phone,” Harper said.
Another win for Harper’s unit: streamlining the building access process for 35 Broad Street and 55 Park Place. Previously, building operations acted as a middleman between Robinson departments and the Georgia State Police Department. Building operations has taken over syncing building access assignments with faculty and staff members’ Panther Cards.
“It was really inefficient because the police department was managing building access for the entire university,” Harper said. “Now, we can go into the Blackboard system and give people immediate access or confirm what access they already have. I’m really excited about that.”
Building access has changed at the Buckhead Center as well. The elevators reaching Robinson levels are now locked, and faculty and staff who work on those floors must carry an access card at all times.
“We made that decision for the sake of the people in Tower Place 200,” said Phyllis Harris, director of the Buckhead Center. “So far, I’ve received feedback that people feel safer.”
Because of pre-pandemic budget cuts as well as hiring freezes that prevented Harris from backfilling positions, she has had to accomplish the same tasks with less staff. As the Buckhead Center reopens, the building will resume hosting recruitment sessions, graduations, academic programs, and other events that require catering. Harris has hired an undergraduate student assistant who will act as a part-time catering coordinator.
“I’m down to one event manager, whereas before I had three,” Harris said. “We’re in the process of training the student to handle catering, and it’s going to work out well.”
According to Harper, the university’s return-to-campus plan includes restoring a sense of normalcy. But, truth be told, the world is not yet, if ever, returning to the five-day-a-week, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m., in-person grind. That has been replaced with a hybrid model. Still, Harper will spearhead the effort to get Robinson faculty and staff reacclimated to their buildings.
“We anticipate some people will realize they’ve lost their keys, forgotten how to check their voicemail, etc. We’ll all need to relearn some standard office functions we haven’t performed in a while,” she said. “The challenge will be getting everyone back up-to-speed with the tools available to them.”
Decker is focusing on adjusting downtown conference spaces to accommodate hybrid meetings: through the installation of cameras, microphones, and large flat panel screens.
“Our primary focus will be making sure the technology in our classrooms and learning spaces is working, and faculty and students are comfortable,” Decker said. “Our response times to non-academic requests will suffer a little bit. Patience will be a key driver for me.”