COVID-19 and the Reinforced Importance of Remote Work

Troy Biermann
By Troy Biermann

This is the first entry of a seven-part series focused on the adaptations made by Vital Village Networks and its community members during the current pandemic.

       Few people could’ve anticipated the impact that COVID-19 would have on the United States and our global community. From a distant problem, to a domestic concern, and finally to a full-blown national outbreak, the coronavirus ambushed people all across the US and interrupted typical work life and home life. The Vital Village Networks staff were no exception to this trend. With the onset of the pandemic came the need for VVN to transition to a completely different format of work, from one that emphasized physical, in-person engagement to one that necessitated physical distance and flexibility. But what was this like, how did it affect the VVN staff, and what kind of adaptations had to be made?

        As new information on the spread of COVID-19 in the United States initially emerged in late February and early March, members of VVN already began to prepare a contingency should the possible outbreak become particularly severe. Within this contingency came the network-wide plan to limit travel, restrict large in-person events, and use virtual meeting platforms such as GoToMeeting (and later Zoom), as well as individual plans to stay properly distanced and to regularly sanitize.  Though there were sentiments of uncertainty as to how quickly this virus was spreading as well as if or when these guidelines would need to be followed, the VVN leadership made sure to keep the rest of its staff updated with the necessary directives issued by the Boston Medical Center Department of Pediatrics.  Vital Village Networks is under the umbrella of Boston Medical Center, though the nature of its work is offsite and in the community, so the virus would fundamentally affect hospital staff differently than VVN staff. Still, the hospital had the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding the virus, so it remained important for VVN to follow their directives as they were implemented or updated.

        Eventually, on Thursday, March 12th, 2020, the VVN team met together one last time to discuss the health and safety measures that would soon be in place and to pilot work from home, with both anxiety about what the future would hold and optimism that things would be able to return to normal soon. The following day, March 13th, the VVN staff fully transitioned to remote work for an indefinite period of time. For some, the chance to work from home provided the opportunity to stay connected with their family in a time of acute uncertainty. However, for many on the VVN team, the onset of the pandemic and the abrupt switch to a new work environment interrupted both personal and professional plans, whether in terms of trips to see family or future programming, and posed a difficult challenge in an already stressful local and national situation. For some staff, modifications to work hours were necessary to support instruction for children at home when their schools transitioned to remote learning.

        With the transition from working in an office to working from home also came a number of technological challenges that needed to be addressed. For some, adjusting to the resources that made working remotely possible in the first place, such as Zoom, provided a steep learning curve, and, at times, the mishaps around these resources offered important learning experiences. For others, working from home meant lacking access to resources that were once in the office, such as extra monitors; in turn, this meant looking for new ways to make work more efficient and finding new strategies to overcome any potential obstacles.

Even so, with the groundwork already laid down in the days preceding the closure of the VVN office and its in-person programming, this transition was not impossible. In fact, the VVN team was able to transition to remote work both effectively and smoothly, and it was the preparation that preceded the full transition that made this possible. While there were naturally parts of remote work that needed to be learned on the fly and through trial and error, particularly regarding the onboarding process for new staff and the offboarding process for departing staff, the bulk of the necessary steps to do so were taken in the days before the transition, helping to alleviate any potential difficulties or issues that might accompany it.

In the end, the pandemic provided its fair share of challenges to VVN staff in terms of suddenly changing the format of work life. However, with the help of rigorous planning, regular communication, and a genuine willingness to adapt, the VVN team was able to not just successfully transition from in-person to remote work but also do so efficiently and without major interruptions to their community engagement work.


In the next entry of this series, we will explore how not just the VVN staff but also how the VVN community was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will look into the planning and organization that was implemented to make sure that members of the community could stay connected and actively involved.