Mississippi IT Workers Transition City Hall to Remote Work

As COVID-19 made its way to Tupelo, Miss., IT workers knew they would have to start thinking outside the box to equip most of the city’s employees with the tools needed to start working remotely.

by Taylor Vance, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal / June 22, 2020
Government seems to be coping well with the shift to a remote work environment, but challenges remain. (Shutterstock)

(TNS) — As COVID-19 made its way to Tupelo, Miss., three workers tucked inside an often unseen wing on the second floor of City Hall knew they would have to start thinking outside the box to equip most of the city’s employees with the tools needed to start working remotely.

The three workers – Robert Kiste, Gordon Hopper and David King – make up the city’s information technology department. Mayor Jason Shelton informed the City Council in mid-March that most of the city’s employees would start working from home as much as possible to slow the spread of the virus. To do this, the employees needed equipment and software to keep government functions running as smoothly as possible.

Kiste, the director of the department, said the city was already in a decent place to have most of its employees working remotely, but the initial problem was finding affordable equipment city employees could use to work remotely.

“There was a mass run on laptops. So actually finding hardware equipment that we can give out because we actually don’t keep a warehouse of that was a challenge,” Kiste said.

Once the employees had the needed equipment, the next challenge the workers had to accomplish was to train elected officials and employees how to use some of the video conference technology – a task that could sometimes lead to funny scenarios when trying to close a generational gap with technology.

“We had a couple of people – and they were just employees – that maybe weren’t thinking about what was going on in their background or what they were doing when they left their video on,” Kiste said laughingly.

He said the good thing to come from the funny moments was he and the other IT employees were able to make people more comfortable by hosting practice sessions and getting them acclimated to using the new technology.

Hopper said he and the team “were just as perplexed as anyone on the front end” about how to solve certain issues, but were able to collaborate and brainstorm the best solutions. Hopper said the information technology employees rose to the challenge and were able to provide many alternative solutions to issues in a timely manner.

“We had to think way ahead and err on the side of caution,” Hopper said. “When you start thinking about municipal court running during the pandemic, it’s kind of a challenge.”

Tupelo was one of the first cities in the state that issued orders mandating non-essential business to close and residents to shelter-in-place to help slow the spread of the virus, which required Shelton, the second-term mayor, to give daily updates through social media and even grant interviews to national news outlets.

This extra task required Kiste and his team to work in close coordination with members of Shelton’s administration on the best way to deliver the mayor’s remarks to residents and to national news outlets. At times, Kiste even had to give Shelton advice on the best way to prepare for a virtual interview.

“Some of it was as simple as the best practice about how you stack your laptop and your screen to get the right picture and get you framed in it,” Kiste said. “ It’s simple, and it’s kind of nontechnical, but people kind of forget about it.”

Kiste attributed the success of the department’s functions to the administration and the City Council. He said without their support and understanding, he doesn’t know where they would have been while transitioning to remote working.

“I think like most people first and foremost, we’re citizens of Tupelo – all three of us,” Kiste said of the IT department. “So, it wasn’t just the work aspect but it was the personal aspect. I’ve got young kids and a family. My wife has a small business. We were definitely watching every little thing everyday waiting for new information to see what was the next thing and how we were going to have to react to it.”

©2020 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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