Technology Services and COVID-19 telecommuting

The coronavirus outbreak has brought us new phrases, like social distancing, essential employees and working from home. When counties and the State of North Marys officeCarolina issued “stay at home” orders in late March, the City of Gastonia updated its Telecommuting Policy. By definition, telecommuting is using technology to work from a different location. And the City’s Technology Services Department took the lead in making it possible for some employees to telecommute during the pandemic.

Technology Services Director Beverly Bieker says many City employees already work remotely in the field or have devices that allow remote connectivity to the City’s network. “However, the work-from-home directive affected a large number of employees who did not have access,” she says. And the task of giving employees the tools they need to work from home fell to Tech Services.

Some telecommuters needed a City-owned laptop computer. Others, like call center employees, needed a phone, loaner laptop and monitor. Some simply needed instructions from Tech Services on how to access their work computer using a remote desktop connection. And every telecommuter needed to sign paperwork indicating they had read and would abide by City policies.

Computer ImagingThe City was able to provide loaner laptops to some workers. “We were very lucky that we recently replaced the public safety mobile laptops and actually had excess equipment on hand,” Bieker says. “Normally we do not have a large number of laptops sitting around in case of an emergency.” For others, the City provided a software remote-access solution that allows the employee to use a personal device. Bieker says that decreased the need for loaner laptops.

So far, telecommuting been successful, but it hasn’t been flawless. Employees’ home internet must have good speed and connectivity. And workers need to learn the process of connecting from a device at home to a City server. Bieker says the HelpDesk got more calls than usual when telecommuting first started, but says “the overall experience has been positive.”

Entrust button and on phoneA recent national survey found 40% of American adults have worked from home during the coronavirus outbreak. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those jobs are mostly in management, business, finance and other tied-to-the-desk kinds of careers. Bieker says the City departments with the largest number of employees working from home are Finance, Development Services/Engineering, Public Utilities and Public Works.

Even some Tech Services employees are telecommuting, but not everyone. “Not all of our department's staff have this option due to the critical hands-on support that Technology Services provides,” Bieker says. To minimize exposure to others, Tech Services has reduced the number of employees in the office. And it is limiting visits to the radio shop to critical repairs. The City is responsible for first-responder radios for agencies throughout the County. She says her department is also emphasizing the need for first-responders and all City employees to clean their equipment and vehicles during the pandemic.

Technology Services also facilitated a change involving City Council meetings. The City Council has continued to meet in person, but the number of people in the meeting room is limited to 10. So the public comment portion of the meetings is being done remotely. Tech Services set up a phone line for those wishing to speak during a Council meeting. The callers are put into a queue which is controlled by staff, and Screen Shotthe meetings are livestreamed on the City’s website. Tech Services has also set up the videoconferencing platform Zoom to allow members of the City Council to meet from separate locations, if necessary. A Planning Commission meeting this month will probably use Zoom.

Bieker praises her staff for their quick action and for finding solutions when connectivity, licensing or equipment problems popped up. She says Tech Services employees have been “fully engaged in making sure the department is able to meet the needs of City users.” She adds that she “could not have asked for better staff. Everyone has been – and is – all in!”



Gastonia, N.C., just minutes west of Charlotte, is one of the area’s best places to live and work with an ideal combination of location, size and livability. Gastonia is the largest of Gaston County’s 13 municipalities and one of the largest cities in the Charlotte metropolitan area. Selected as an All-America City three times, Gastonia’s desirable quality of life is the result of its beautiful natural surroundings, friendly neighborhoods, responsive government and vibrant business environment.


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