By Gil McRae, FWRI Director
As I write this our personal and professional lives have been upended by the COVID-19 virus. We have never seen a pandemic on this scale and response to the virus has challenged our health, economic and social support systems far beyond what they were built to handle. While it is difficult to speculate at this point, my hope is that we emerge on the other side of this pandemic as a stronger, more peaceful global society focused on proactively addressing health and environmental issues that affect us all.
I want to commend the members of your Institute Leadership Team who have been instrumental in helping us organize ourselves so that we can keep working productively and collaboratively in this new mode. Harry Norris has done an exceptional job helping us manage data and information while maintaining a personal connection to people and programs that has made a real difference. I believe our early push to get as many staff teleworking as possible, combined with actions taken at the agency and state level has helped keep our workforce healthy. As of this writing about 90 % of FWRI staff are teleworking to some extent and close to 80 % are teleworking full time.
There have been many policy changes associated with this event and I know it can be confusing at times. The most notable new policy involves the availability of emergency sick leave and emergency family medical leave to all staff. As I write this, we are still in the discovery mode regarding these policies and our fantastic HR team of Jodi Harner and Betty Heath with the support of Laura Tennant and Rae Ann Hill are simultaneously fielding your questions and working with their HR counterparts in other Divisions and the Office of Executive Director to develop guidance on these policies. No doubt you will have that guidance by the time you read this, if not you know how to find us, and we are here to help.
Many of you have read about the challenges facing our reemployment assistance program in the state. With many of our friends and family out of work, this issue hits home hard. When the call went out for volunteers to assist the state in dealing with the backlog of applications, dozens of you stepped up to assist without knowing what you were getting into. Our potential role has now been refined somewhat to focus on entry of data received via hardcopy applications and we expect there will be more of you willing to assist. If so, your ILT member is the point person for getting the information to Harry Norris who is coordinating our volunteer efforts.
In these uncertain times we quickly move to the things that matter most. As impersonal as things can sometimes seem in a large organization like ours, I am proud of the staff-centric culture we have built over many decades. I know that some of you have gone through some very difficult, even heartbreaking experiences, and my hope is that you are able to draw some strength from the knowledge that you have a workplace and co-workers that care about you and your family’s well-being. Collectively, we are the very definition of resilient. Stay healthy and stay connected.