This month’s thought leader piece is written by Annika Lowgren. Annika serves as the Executive Office Manager for New American Pathways, where she has managed operations for almost 5 years. Annika graduated from Georgia Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Affairs with a concentration on Philosophy of Technology. During her academic pursuits, she lived in the Middle East where she interned for the American Chamber of Commerce, studied the Arabic language and contemporary refugee issues in the region. During her time at Georgia Tech, Annika conducted academic field research on the immigration integration model in Scandinavia and from 2012-2014, she served as a mentor to a young refugee student for the Global Village Project.
A given day in the world of managing operations for New American Pathways is comprised of solving problems for the varying challenges that arise. In the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we had some new monumental challenges to solve.
Our organization’s mission is “Helping refugees and Georgia thrive”. The Operations team supports this mission through managing our technology infrastructure, overseeing facility management, providing reception, giving ongoing staff support, and many other endeavors. We support our amazing team of up to 80 AmeriCorps and staff members to empower their ability to serve our clients well. It is an honor to support the essential work they do.
As the Executive Office Manager, I am charged with the responsibility to ensure that our organizations is able to not only function efficiently, but to flourish throughout all of the challenges that come our way. As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived into Georgia, it was a matter of rising to the occasion to ensure that we would see this through- safely and together. Challenge accepted!
Early on the morning of March 12th, our CEO made the call- we would be moving into a telework culture within 24 hours. We held an emergency staff meeting and put our brains together. It was a remarkable undertaking to get us moved out and ready. Keep in mind- our strengths as an organization as human service-providers is our social skills is what makes us successful in giving assistance and reassurance in person to clients of all kinds of backgrounds. Our office culture is that of a family- we take time to laugh together, to eat together, to commiserate together. For us to disperse into our homes away from each other and to change our mentality to virtual service- it initially seemed that it would be very difficult.
But we did it- with finesse and resilience. We understood that to ensure safety is the ultimate contribution to our mission, our clients, and to each other. Amazingly, we got our systems and workstations remote very quickly with the help of our awesome IT partners LAN Systems. We made technical tools such as hotspots, conferencing lines, electronic faxing, printers, scanners, webcams, & DocuSign available. We are utilizing daily a range of conference calls applications. We have learned how to screen share, how to host virtual trainings, and host virtual orientations. We are conducting staff hiring and interviews virtually. We are checking in with each other and sharing memes and jokes on a safe, user-friendly platform to maintain our family-esque culture. We are adhering to safe virtual habits.
I am so proud of the creativity of my colleagues on how they now deliver their services virtually through the use of technology. Our Youth and Education department has fired up a YouTube channel of uploaded daily lessons for our after-school students. Our Forward Program is providing vocational counseling by engaging with clients virtually. Our HR department hosted a Virtual Spirit Week and a “socially-distant” walking challenge. Our Service and Volunteerism team is implementing virtual volunteer opportunities and training. Our Parents As Teachers team is delivering remote home visits. Our Immigration team is doing consultations through a weekly virtual walk-in. Our Civic Engagement team is throwing virtual “decades-themed” census text bank parties. Our R&RN team is virtually assisting clients with CARES Act stimulus check guidance. Our directors and Board members meet virtually to stay engaged on the oversight of the organization. It’s an amazing collective and very virtual operation.
We are getting the job done in the face of this strange pandemic reality and we are doing it well. There have been challenges. But through the strength and resilience of my staff, our clients, and our community- we will see this through. And when it’s over, we will hit the ground running back at the office because we maintained our work by quickly adapting to a virtual world. We will be better service-providers and team members because of this.