Keeping the Lines of Communication Open

At Spokane Transit, a small team of Executive Assistants (EA) work to facilitate the day-to-day workings of top-tier management and support the STA Board of Directors and committees.

When the coronavirus emergency hit, it fell on them to keep communication lines open while workplace restrictions put a halt to holding meetings in the same way they’d previously been held.

For Dana Infalt, Executive Assistant to STA CEO E. Susan Meyer and Clerk of the Authority, this meant organizing a board meeting virtually, something that had never been done before at STA. She had a short window of time to learn how to do it.

“It was stressful,” Infalt recalls. “The programs and technology were very new to us, but we knew we had to find a way to continue with board meetings during the pandemic, because the board had to make important decisions about the agency’s operations and response to COVID.”

Infalt worked with the EA team to set up a virtual meeting with board members joining from across the Spokane region. After collaborating with the other EAs to overcome initial obstacles, Infalt applied the new procedures to other internal and external public meetings.

“This was one of our biggest wins during the coronavirus emergency,” Infalt said. “It wasn’t just that we were able to hold board meetings and implement executive sessions. It was that we that we were able to do it in a way that allowed the public to continue to take part. The public isn’t limited to attending or listening, they can actually contribute.”

Sam Guzman strives to anticipate what STA’s Chief Operations Officer will need to be successful in his day, and also serves as a point of contact for the other Operations managers.

Guzman was tasked with making sure executives and managers on the Operations side had the tools and knowledge to keep communication lines running smoothly as STA implemented new policies to keep customers and employees safe during COVID-19.

“We made guides and led walk-throughs,” she said. “For the EA’s, we did tons of tests with the software. We rotated who was hosting, how we were joining, different ways to share content, and just about any other variable we could think of. We slowly, but surely, worked out all the kinks that way. There was lots and lots of time spent troubleshooting with each other to get the meetings running like we wanted.”

Stacia Bowers, an EA in the Communications Department, also had to get an immediate grasp on videoconferencing in order to make sure the Communications team was able to meet and plan how to keep the public informed of new safety guidelines. This, in addition to the normal workload of meetings and committees involving outside advisors and the public, took on greater importance as the pandemic intensified.

“We had to find a solution that worked for all levels of technological savviness,” she said. “We knew it was successful when we saw increased attendance at meetings where people from outside of STA took part. Going virtual meant it was easier to attend, but there’s less person-to-person interaction.”

Vicki Clancy, an EA for the Director of Planning and Development, was already used to working at a fast pace before COVID hit. When the virus shut down regular agency meetings, she found working as a team with the other EAs was vital for both creating and maintaining a system for virtual meetings.

“The EAs worked together to create consistency amongst the committee meetings and board meetings so that the work could continue to move forward,” Clancy said. “COVID hit so fast, that the short learning curve proved challenging, but by working together as a team, meetings were conducted successfully and continue to be so.”

Most important was being flexible and able to quickly adapt to new challenges.

“It’s important to think outside the box in these situations,” Clancy said.

From her bird’s-eye view of STA operations, Guzman feels riders can be confident STA is doing all it can to protect their safety.

“Riding with STA is still a safe and viable option,” she said. “Just make sure you are doing your part and following recommended guidelines.”

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