Learning from frontline university operations employees during COVID-19
Ready, resilient, and resourceful.
These alliterative descriptors are just some of the innumerable positive qualities embodied by Virginia Tech employees keeping university operations moving forward throughout the COVID-19 emergency.
From delivering thousands of packages to campus recipients or 600,000 face coverings to departments or providing clean, sanitized, and physically-distanced spaces in educational and administrative buildings, essential employees continue to go above and beyond to ensure the needs of the university community are met — in spite of a dynamic COVID-19 environment.
“Without a doubt, we can attribute — in large part — our ability to welcome the Virginia Tech community back to Blacksburg for a safe and productive fall semester to the unwavering resiliency and Ut Prosim spirit embodied by all those employees serving on campus over the past six months,” said Dwayne Pinkney, senior vice president and chief business officer.
“On behalf of university leadership and the campus community, we recognize your outstanding efforts and are deeply grateful for all that you continue to do day-in and day-out to keep us running safely.”
On-campus units engaged in the COVID-19 response and campus preparation activities include the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure and Facilities; Division of Safety and Security; Equity and Accessibility; Transportation Services; Mail Services; Division of Information Technology; Procurement; Student Affairs; and many others.
Through these essential employees’ exceptional stories of service and commitment, the university community can gain valuable insights into the problem solving, empathy, and hard work that is required to maintain critical operations during such dynamic times.
Here are a few of these stories and wisdom that can be gained from them.
When trying to solve a problem, get creative, and look to the resources that already exist as a solution
Despite the majority of campus members transitioning to remote learning and work off-campus last winter, a staggering number of residential and departmental packages continued to arrive on-campus each day in their absence.
Facing reduced staffing levels from COVID-19, Mail Services looked for assistance outside the department to help deliver the mounting packages.
As soon as the call for help was deployed, teams from Transportation Services, Print Services, and the Virginia Tech Police Department Security Unit, sprang into action.
“The volume of packages that arrived on campus was overwhelming in the beginning of COVID-19. We needed help — and fast. We’re grateful that so many Virginia Tech employees were willing to assist with deliveries over these first few weeks. It made it much less difficult for us to manage,” said Janet Bishop, postal specialist.
During essential operations, thanks to support from the external departments assisting with package delivery, Mail Services and stakeholders from Information Technology, the Division of Safety and Security, and Business Affairs were still able to deploy the new Virginia Tech Package PickUPP intelligent locker program in time for fall semester and a large-scale move-in package retrieval strategy.
Virginia Tech Procurement and Surplus Property are two more examples of units that got inventive during essential operations. They continue to harness an innovative spirit to meet the personal protective equipment (PPE) and critical supply needs of the university.
In the early days of the pandemic, when Virginia Tech experienced shortages of common PPE and equipment in the supply chain, Procurement put out a call to university departments to see what they already had in their inventories and volunteer these products to a centralized emergency stockpile. Tracking and distribution of PPE in those first weeks was coordinated through the Virginia Tech Emergency Management Logistics Team.
Led by Surplus Property Manager Ron Barrett, the surplus team immediately converted furniture and equipment storage areas at their South Main Street facility to house these critical supplies. They also transformed their existing operations procedures to support the ongoing collection, inventory, and distribution process for COVID-19 supplies.
Surplus’ hard work coupled with the generosity from the university departments got the university through the first few weeks while Procurement worked to find the products needed to protect those who were managing emergency operations.
Procurement teams, including administrative staff, buyers, and Surplus employees, along with Finance Information Systems employees, remain instrumental in obtaining PPE and ensuring these items reach departments and those who need them most. This continues to require hard work, creativity, and continued communication with a wide range of departments and national vendors.
In a dynamic environment, focus on the task at hand
Since the onset of COVID-19, the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities has committed to maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness across all of campus facilities.
Central to this pledge is the implementation of an aggressive enhanced cleaning and disinfecting program and the installation of more than 2,000 hands-free sanitizer stations, 600 hands-free soap dispensers, and 600 hands-free paper towel dispensers in 200 campus buildings.
How did essential Housekeeping and Facilities Operations employees implement these efforts? With unprecedented hard work, focus, and partnership.
“When it comes to ensuring the health and safety of the university community in our buildings, above all else, we have to focus on the task at hand and do all we can do to support our vulnerable campus populations. There are Housekeeping teams specifically focused on high-touch areas and they clean them area by area. Then there are teams dedicated entirely to installing new sanitizer, soap, and paper towel dispensers. This focused approach enables us to deliver high quality results day-in and day-out,” noted Justin Hurt, facilities housekeeping and contractual services quality control manager.
The division continues to rely on its strong working relationship with Procurement to access crucial cleaning supplies and equipment.
Project-by-project, division employees continue to make substantial progress on the multitude of capital and noncapital renovations projects occurring across the Blacksburg campus — all of which boost the on-campus experience and the university’s learning, residential, and workplace offerings. A few of these include the Creativity and Innovation District, Chilled Water Infrastructure Project, Venture Out Facility improvements, and more.
Job skills can be learned; the willingness to serve is instinctual
When it comes to the ins and outs of daily activities, units like Parking Services; Surplus Property; the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities; and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost all function fairly differently.
What’s the common thread linking their operations?
Ardent employees ready to chip in to be there for colleagues in times of need — even when those needs go beyond daily job descriptions or everyday skill sets.
The aforementioned departments were instrumental in not only package deliveries, but also in this summer’s efforts to move classroom furniture in promotion of physical distancing standards and transport the leftover 6,000 pieces into storage.
“Fellow employees at Virginia Tech are like family, so jumping in and helping them is the natural thing to do. A heartfelt saying at Parking Services is ‘we’re here for you,’ and we mean it,” said Graham Smith, Parking Services special event and appeals coordinator. Smith was engaged in many of the essential operations activities this summer.
University employees at the frontlines merit continued appreciation
Driven by a motivation to serve their Hokie community, these are just some of the myriad examples of how frontline employees continue to make tangible contributions to Virginia Tech’s preparedness activities around COVID-19 and all that goes into the groundwork required for the return to in-person instruction, residence life, and work.