Contributed by Michelle Porter, Director, Parking & Transportation Services, Carnegie Mellon University / Board Member, Pennsylvania Parking Association.
We have all been faced with operating at a very different level since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Of course, this has had an effect on our personal lives; but when I think about how it has affected my professional life, it makes me rethink how we did and can begin to do things.
Working at a university, I am used to the phones ringing non-stop, non-stop meetings, and numerous visitors coming in and out of my office. In addition to the face-to-face interaction with colleagues to discuss things like move out, our spring carnival (which was set to kick off this weekend), and the grand finale – – commencement. As a university professional, events like those take time and planning. For the most part there are a lot of directives that we change each year, but these tweaks are made in an attempt to do things “better”.
With all of these events being postponed for the 19-20 academic year, it again puts a damper on one’s spirit. From a parking professional’s standpoint, I was never really afforded the opportunity to work from home. Most of my staff is considered essential, and therefore, moving operations to a WFH status is very different. The countless face-to-face meetings have now become ZOOM calls where you have to make sure your background and hair is intact. While most of these meetings are helpful and can do almost everything a face-to-face meeting can, it is awkward. I am accustomed to meeting in person, going back to my office, developing notes and preparing for the next in person meeting. Most of my schedule from January through May are meetings to prepare and then prepare some more on the events mentioned above.
With those events being canceled most of my meetings are “check-in” meetings to fill my day. While I still have work projects I’m completing and preparing for whatever the fall semester looks like. It has definitely been a gut check with how we take our daily routine both personal and work for granted.
One of the other aspects I’ve looked at is how do I manage my staff through such a difficult time? Most are anxious about losing their jobs or the university furloughing employees, so as a Director, it is my job to help calm their anxieties. For each weekly staff meeting Zoom call, I’ve given our staff something to think about and come to the next meeting with. Topics have included: What have you learned throughout this process?; What are you most thankful for?; and this week’s is: “Provide ideas of what we want our office environment to look like on the other side of the stay at home order.” While I still have some staff actually working (enforcement staff and shuttle/escort drivers), I check on them two-three times per week, bringing them lunch or Dunkin Donuts. They have all been equipped with the necessary masks, gloves, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer to continue operating safely. While I know this won’t save the fact that they still have to be on campus, it does help to let them know that I appreciate them being here.
Lastly, I think about how a lot of our jobs can actually be performed remotely, and it brings me to reflect about how I can rebrand myself as a parking professional. I would love to believe we will go back to “normal”, or whatever we consider that to be; however; things are going to change. I am also taking this time to brush up on skills within my role that got away from me due to my busy schedule. We look at how conferences can now be held virtually, and how will this change for us all professionally? I took out my position description to understand what is it that I could do better? What is it that I don’t do that I could add to my professional portfolio? As we move to a sense of normalcy, I’ve learned throughout this ordeal that 1) you can’t take anything for granted. – the luxuries that we once had were stripped, 2) always be ready so you don’t have to get ready and 3) appreciate what you have.