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Richmond Hill’s use of Technology to support a hybrid-remote work environment

The pandemic has forced us to all think differently and for many changed work forever. All levels of government needed to pivot more than ever before to ensure the continued delivery of services. The acceleration of the journey to digitization from an internal and external viewpoint has gone from a “good to do” business enabler to a “must do” survival project. Changing the way we provide municipal services, moving to a remote workforce and making our whole enterprise less “paper based” is key to continued success.

The city was on a journey to enable a more digital and remote workforce with technological advancements, but adoption was slow. Moving to a remote workforce was out of necessity, but management and staff recognize the benefits ,and a hybrid workforce is here to stay. We answered three important questions early on: “how do we effectively deliver service?”, “How do we ensure staff are working?” and “How do we ensure staff feel connected?”

How do we effectively deliver service?

Effective remote work requires the digitization of processes and work flows inside the organization that have traditionally been paper based and manual. The desktop in /out baskets have been replaced with on-line methods of moving work, providing appropriate approvals, taking payments, and ensuring true records are created and managed. The City had most of the necessary technology in place to have staff able to work securely anywhere with a reliable internet connection.

Multi-factor Authentication and secure Virtual Private Networking had already been established and standard methods for file sharing made the transition less painful and more of an exercise of scaling up versus adding functionality. Our varied methods of web meeting and collaboration tools had to collapse to one standard with the functions we require, now we all “Zoom” through our day and use on-line workshop tools to come together. The City adopted a Hybrid meeting technology as Provincial restrictions for gatherings have loosened to enable more in person meetings, but still provide the option of remote attendance. A challenge evident early on was the execution of contracts and reports requiring wet signatures. The City implemented anon-line industry standard document signature service and accelerated the training and adoption to avoid the painful print / scan / sign / scan / e-mail cycle that many businesses had done away with years ago.

The traditional methods of delivering public services and collecting fees had become a challenge for staff and customers. We responded by forming a multi-discipline team and using an iterative agile method to move as many services and fee collections on-line. This has been extremely successful and shifted the culture to more of an on-line first way of thinking. There is more to this journey as we continue to refine our processes, tools, revenue collection methods and integration with our enterprise systems. We have also moved to an appointment-based approach for services requiring in-person contact while maintaining a walk-in service for those that require a more traditional model or have challenges with technology access.

How do we ensure staff are working?

A remote and digital workforce has changed how we manage work and stay connected to our teams. We have experienced high productivity since inception of working remotely. However, adoption as “the way we do business” requires leaders to manage work in a more outcomes-based method. The development of clear work plans and a performance measuring structure along with a more collaborative and transparent approach is key to successful outcomes. Management has moved from ensuring staff are present and seen to be working for their allotted hours per day to an outcomes-based approach. This evolution must continue as we advance and mature our hybrid-work model. 

How do we ensure staff feel connected?

It requires leaders to ensure team time and one on one staff time is deliberately built into the schedule. The drop by my office or impromptu meetings in the lunchroom has been replaced with on-line “celebrations”, casual WhatsApp groups and after work Zoom drinks. During the pandemic, individuals and teams continue to reach personal and career milestones, complete major projects and deliver on targets, all of the things we used to recognize in person, we must continue to recognize in a virtual world. As part of the internal management development program, training is provided to support leadership in this area.

Richmond Hill is embracing remote work with its financial, environmental, and work/life balance benefits with policies and continued support for Change Management for staff. As we pull out of this pandemic, one of the key takeaways for government is to remember how successful we have been in making effective business changes quickly and in an agile way. Keeping that mindset as we continue our evolution will serve the City well.

About Mary-Anne Dempster

Mary-Anne Dempster has over 20 years experience in the Public Sector. As Richmond Hill’s City Manager, led the City’s response to theCOVID-19 pandemic, championed the technological transformation strategy and developed a continuous improvement culture generating multi-million dollar savings ensuring fiscal sustainability. Leveraging technology and lessons learned throughout the pandemic, established a remote-first workforce policy and framework, significantly decreasing the administrative office footprint and providing more choice for promoting work life balance. Previous to joining the City of Richmond Hill in 2017 as the Commissioner of Corporate and Financial Services, Ms. Dempster served as the Corporate and Financial Services Director for the City of Kawartha Lakes and spent 12 years with the Province of New Brunswick in various management roles. She is a Chartered Professional Accountant, holds a Graduate Degree in Business Administration with a focus on human resources and marketing and has her Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification.

About Anthony Lannucci

Anthony Iannucci has spent over 30 years creating success for organizations in transformation and continuous improvement through the development of business strategy and alignment with information technology solutions.  After a long career with North America’s third largest transit organization the Toronto Transit Commission aligning business and technology for success Anthony is currently leveraging his passion for developing and mentoring teams in leading the City of Richmond Hill through the delivery of a strategic transformation.