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When college campuses closed earlier this year due to COVID-19, universities hopped into crisis management mode. Colleges had to quickly adopt new, virtual ways of educating their students while ensuring the safety and sanity of remote and on-site staff. Pima Community College (PCC) is one such institution. Located in Tucson, Arizona, PCC is one of the largest multi-campus community colleges in the United States, serving all areas of its Tucson community. The College began preparing for the switch to remote learning in the weeks leading up to campus closures. They held forums, communicated possible changes to the student body and created a crisis management plan: First, they would stabilize its staff, then create normalcy and then focus on their employee’s future growth and development.

To help with this effort, PCC created EmployeeConnect, a centralized digital communication and training hub for all staff members. At first, the platform aimed to create organization and connectivity for the College’s temporarily disparate staff. But since its deployment, EmployeeConnect has expanded in scale, reach and impact. It has boosted learning and development among staff members and ensured that PCC will emerge from this crisis armed with the skills necessary to succeed in a post-pandemic reality.

Creating Organization and Clear Communication During the COVID-19 Crisis

Like so many academic institutions, PCC needed a way to quickly get organized and keep its staff informed amidst all the coronavirus-induced change. With this in mind, Jesse Diaz, an advanced program manager at PCC, and other members of the College’s leadership team got to work creating EmployeeConnect. And by using Cornerstone’s Learning and Connect solutions, Diaz was able to build, design and deploy the platform in less than 48 hours.

The team first made sure EmployeeConnect served as an informative resource for every member of PCC’s staff—meaning its remote workers as well as those still on-site like facilities personnel, campus police, payroll teams, and members of the finance department. They then outfitted the platform with context-rich content that’s applicable and relevant to everyone. Administrators shared posts like “Working During COVID-19 to explain what actions PCC was taking to keep its onsite workers safe and “Things Going on Around the District” to give an update on the construction of a new downtown campus. 

The platform also serves as a repository for all of the College’s communications so that staff members never miss an update. Every new remote work policy or direction from HR is accessible via EmployeeConnect so that staff members can read or submit questions on these changes without sifting through emails. 

Diaz and his team can also track how employees interact with the platform. By identifying popular posts and frequently asked questions, they determine which pain points are most common and update the site’s content accordingly. For instance, PCC added a section to EmployeeConnect dedicated to payroll because so many employees were submitting questions on the topic.

Fostering Connection and Offering Employees’ Support 

PCC is using EmployeeConnect to do more than organize communications and provide clear updates: Like most companies and institutions, PCC is worried about how COVID-19 is affecting their workforce’s mental health. According to a recent study, nearly 7 in 10 employees believe the COVID-19 pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career. In another poll, nearly half of Americans said that the coronavirus pandemic has harmed their mental health. 

In addition to encouraging the use of their wellness benefits, PCC wanted to create connectivity among its employees and help socially distant personnel feel less alone during this particularly isolating experience. And with the EmployeeConnect platform, this kind of virtual and united community was quickly created.

The platform gives PCC’s workforce an opportunity to share and comment on their coronavirus-induced experiences through posts and comments. There’s content on where to shop for groceries, tips on balancing childcare and work, techniques for managing anxiety and indoor exercise routines for everyone to try. Administrators at PCC also share information on the College’s wellness benefits and encourage staff members to use them. 

“Within the first few weeks of using the platform, people realized that there was value in this private online community,” said Diaz. “They could contribute and talk about their worries in a private forum where they could be human, be themselves.”

Opportunity For Professional Growth and Development 

PCC also added professional development and skills training to its EmployeeConnect platform. Their goal is to not only help staff members navigate their new remote work environments, but to ensure every employee comes out of this crisis stronger and more prepared for the future.

As newly remote employees, PCC’s faculty and staff needed to develop certain hard and soft skills: For example, some had to learn how to use new technologies, like video conferencing and online meeting scheduling, for their now virtual classrooms. They’ve had to strengthen their leadership and emotional intelligence skills, too: In remote work environments, conversations are typed out, and meetings happen through a screen. This lack of in-person interactions makes it harder to pick up on social cues, understand someone’s moods or properly convey needs. PCC’s staff members needed training on how to lead in these scenarios and connect with students or co-workers, even if through a screen.

On EmployeeConnect, learning is delivered via playlists from Cornerstone’s Learning Solution—a format that proved highly effective for PCC’s staff. These collections of training and courses are organized by topic and skill-level, so employees can choose from beginner, intermediate or advanced. In practice, employees log onto the platform, find the section dedicated to the skills they need, choose their proficiency and start learning.

“With these curated playlists, our employees are learning in a Netflix-style format,” explained Diaz. “This has made learning more effective. They can just scroll through collections of video to find the one they need and press play.” 

By creating learning content that’s easy to find and consume, PCC has set its employees up for  future success. According to the numbers, staff members are now taking more courses: When the site launched in March, only 720 employees had completed their compliance training, so PCC added marketing to EmployeeConnect that drove users to “College Directed Training,” a section of the site dedicated to compliance training. Since then, 468 more employees have finished the courses, pushing the completion number up to 1188 employees as of May 4th.

It’s also become clear that staff members will continue using the site to learn, connect and grow  because they derive value from it. The platform’s user engagement is far above the industry standard: While average engagement levels for internal community websites like EmployeeConnect usually land around 0.09%, PCC has maintained a solid 13% for two months in a row. 

Even after this crisis has ended, Diaz and his team expect to use the EmployeeConnect site as a place where PCC’s staff members can share experiences, improve themselves and learn new skills. This virtual internal community has brought more than organization and connection to people facing a difficult time—it has helped PCC build a pathway towards future growth and talent development.

The full session is available on-demand and includes many more tips and details on how EmployeeConnect has helped Pima Community College prepare for work during the COVID-19 crisis and for future growth after it. I hope you find it useful in helping make your work easier and more impactful.