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Wingecarribee Shire switches on work from home, gears up for virtual council meetings

In mid-March Wingecarribee Shire Council didn’t have a working remotely procedure; by the start of April a large percentage of its indoor workforce was operating remotely – mostly from within their homes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The rapid pivot in work practices will be familiar to many enterprises grappling with the impacts of COVID-19. Like Wingecarribee they understand the need for secure, resilient digital platforms for their staff to use from home while maintaining the cultural fabric of the organisation.  

It’s a particular issue for a local Regional Council like Wingecarribee Shire which needs to ensure continuity of services for businesses and close to 50,000 residents.

Located midway between Sydney and CanberraWingecarribee Shire spans over 2700 square kilometres of the Southern Highlands of NSW. The Council employs around 460 personnel who are normally based in offices, libraries, pools, childcare services and depots in MittagongBowral and Moss Vale.  

John Crawford the Council’s Chief Information Officer leads the organisation’s digital transformation which was initiated by the Council’s Executive and Management Team as part of an overall Business Transformation Program – and as luck would have it, had completed a major communications project in September 2019 that laid the foundations for its current needs.  

The migration of the Council onto the national broadband network last year precipitated a rethink of its communications platform. To ensure that employees would be able to use voice over IP communications, Crawford, after completing a competitive procurement process, worked with CommsChoice and enabled direct routing for Microsoft Teams to support telephony across the organisation. CommsChoice was chosen due to its depth of experience in Microsoft Teams deployments using its Teams Direct Routing rapid mass deployment methodology. 

Council was already using Microsoft Office 365, making direct routing for Microsoft Teams a clear candidate for communications. The solution meant people could call from their desks or smartphones as well as access chat meetings and video functions. They could also retain their existing phone numbers. 

Crawford praises the CommsChoice team for its methods and principles for good project management. “We had regular stand ups, we had on-sites at our premises, we had on-sites at their premises, training, handling the support process and the architecture support has been nothing short of brilliant. 

“This whole process from contract sign to implementation was 10 weeks. We successfully changed the entire organisation with a full training program in 10 weeks,” says Crawford. 

As it turned out – just in time for the COVID-19 shakeup. 

It’s been a huge pivot for the organisation says Crawford; 

Up until two weeks ago we didn’t even have a working remotely procedureMicrosoft Teams has enabled us to allow our employees to work from home which is now being encouraged during the COVID-19 pandemic, without the traditional hassles of phone diversions, whilst offering a great platform for everyone to collaborate on. 

“We’ve come a long way in two weeks,” he says. And there is further to go – Crawford is currently working toward using Teams as a platform to host Council meetings – at least until after the COVID-19 restrictions are loosened. After that, who knows, but he suspects that the world of work will be forever changed by the current situation. 

A quiet revolution 

Having transformed Council’s communications technology with Teams, Crawford says; The benefits that have come from it are huge. I’m going to be honest, there were still a lot of detractors, because it is very different. People are used to having something on their desk and pressing buttons.  

But one thing I will say, in about the last 10 to 12 days, those people have now embraced the product, because it enables them to work from home whilst still collaborating with their teams and working with the community.” 

Besides delivering employees with the solution they need to be able to work from home, the move to Teams, using the CommsChoice Direct Routing Calls plans, will save Council as much as $80,000 a year in productivity improvements and efficiencies in the way things are undertaken within Council, says Crawford. 

In response to COVID-19 a large percentage of the Council is working remotely. “Teams just enables people to keep in contact and enables managers to be able to actively manage their staff. It keeps communication channels open. It allows video conferencing, which has been taken up en masse” which Crawford explains is essential for local government which traditionally relies on face-to-face engagement. 

Field services staff are able to access the system using Surface Pros, while office workers have laptop access. Teams also supports the Council’s contact centre operations. 

Crawford says that a key ally in ensuring people were able to use the system effectively was the training and change management associated with the implementation of Teams. “Don’t just assume people are going to be able to pick it up and run with it. Spend the time, do your hour, hourandahalf training sessions. Take them through the features. Make it a user interactive session, so make sure you have equipment there for them to use. 

Crawford is now looking to integrate Teams with SharePoint so that the platform can be used to support training – regardless of where someone is working.  

We’re focused on supporting our customers during these difficult times. For more information on how we can help your business, please see our dedicated webpage and report on Supporting Resilient Operations. We’ll be updating these resources regularly as the situation evolves