Shannon Sears, WCTEL Director of Commercial Operations

    Q: How quickly was your team able to start adjusting their processes to account for the stay at home order?

    A: We were able to adjust our processes almost immediately to account for the stay at home order. Within one week, we went from a company that worked entirely from an office for 68 years, to 70% of our workforce working from home. We had equipment on-hand to do this and ordered what else was needed; VPNs were set up at staff homes to continue to take calls and operate as normal. It was a team effort and an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to get our company working remotely. Not only did we attend to our immediate needs, but we also proactively reached out to business members, to see that they had the equipment and connections they needed to allow their employees to function in a remote set-up. We were a key resource in allowing other businesses the option to work from home.

    Q: What was the immediate reaction from customers?

    A: Customers wanted to be assured that their internet connection was stable and could handle the new demands being placed on it. Having a fiber optic network that is robust enough to handle any increase in demand, gave our customers the peace of mind that their internet service would be there when they need it the most. We also educated the community with work from home tips, CDC Guidelines, computer scams, and other helpful content on a dedicated webpage and through social posts, emails, and blogs. You can view the link here:
    Our offices have been closed for walk in traffic and will continue to be closed until further notice, however we have the tools in place to continue to serve our members.

    Q: How quickly was your team and customers able to adjust to the new processes?

    A: With anything new there is a learning curve, however we were able to accelerate our learning curve in this situation and our members did too. We stopped in-home installations immediately and released instructional videos for self-installation of our services, along with an “install in a box” that included the equipment necessary. The instructions and the videos were very thorough and went through every detail so customers would know exactly what to do. It went surprisingly well; we have a wide age demographic, and all customers were able to self-install smoothly. Once we resumed in-person visits, we released a video describing what precautions our technicians were taking so customers would know firsthand. Prior to scheduling an in-home installation, customers were asked screening questions to ensure the safety of our team. The customers were assured that we were taking sanitary precautions to mitigate exposure to the virus and doing our part to keep both them and our employees safe. We also identified that the community may experience hardships during this time, WCTEL came alongside of its members who were experiencing economic hardship and provided payment options and ancillary plans.

    Q: What did your team in the field do to ensure their safety as well as that of your customers?

    A: It was our top priority to make our customers and employees feel both comfortable and customers safe. Our team practiced sanitization safety along with health assessment checks (temperature checks) daily. We sanitized all our tools, equipment, supplies, trucks (door handles, steering wheel) and other common surfaces between every service visit. This video shows how we continued sanitization safety once we restarted in-home installations.

    Q: Was there anything that in hindsight you wish you had done immediately?

    A: We’re thankful for a proactive board and executive team who were quick to take action and implement new pandemic procedures. I don’t think we would change anything that we did, mainly because we all worked together to accomplish a very specific goal.

    Q: Of the procedures you have enacted, are there any you anticipate becoming your regular practice?

    A: Throughout this process we’ve created many efficiencies, productivity has actually increased with our staff working from home and we will consider a hybrid model of office and work from home arrangements. The biggest takeaway may be that our company will never be the same because of this, in a good way. Even though the pandemic is a negative, the changes in our company from this situation have made us stronger and more adaptable. We were impressed with our team’s resilience, positivity, and willingness to do their part. As a telecom we knew that internet was and is an essential service, but now society embraces it as an essential service, placing even greater value on it than before. Schools have also adjusted to hybrid models and WCTEL is proud to enable that with the services we provide.

    Q: What is your strategy related to adjusting to the continued pandemic issues over the next six months?

    A: We continue to monitor the pandemic internally and externally. We have daily and weekly meetings with staff check-ins. Team health remains a top priority for WCTEL. Team health check-ins, work stress levels and personal stress levels are monitored and taken into consideration. Anxiety is high now with personal stresses, teaching kids from home, working from home, all impacting stress levels. We are in tune with our staff and the social shift. We recognize there are mental health issues when a team is removed from social interaction and we’re providing team resources on a regular basis to address those issues. We review CDC guidelines daily and look to them as an overall resource on the current state of the pandemic. We’ll continue to practice social distancing and sanitizing procedures.

    Although our offices will remain closed over the next several months, we will continue to support our members and community by providing reliable services that the community can count on and assist customers with a positive customer experience. We value people by showing genuine care when we interact with them.

    Q: Has there been a positive story or result that you can share?

    A: When the pandemic first started, we reached out to the community and our schools. We helped ensure that local students had access to internet, and low-income areas were served with WiFi Hotspots. Students were able to continue their studies and stay up on their curriculums because of it. During this time, it was of utmost importance for us to serve our community, whether members or not. We wanted to ensure that our community continued to flourish.
    Also, we had just connected a local business with hosted business solutions right before the pandemic and because of the integrated phone lines, they were immediately able to work from home and continue their daily operations without a glitch.

    In conclusion, I am certain that our journey through this pandemic is not so different from what other companies experienced.  We also realize that others had a much more difficult time.  In the end I hope that we all learned to work together, grow together, endure together and have a common goal to serve others.