FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — County department heads took turns Aug. 12 presenting county commissioners with an assessment of how they have been operating through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The review focused on examining how the pandemic has affected productivity, quality control, employee safety and public access to services.
Most department heads were able to compare productivity of their departments for the first four or five months of 2020, with the same months of 2019 in a wide array of quantifiable areas, such as the number of customers served, the number of permits issued, amount of funds collected.
Additional criteria brought up at the commission work session included how accessible the offices were to the public and public satisfaction with services. With few exceptions, department heads reported that productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction were running equal to or exceeding the previous year. The department heads attributed much of the success to a combination of factors that have been implemented by the county, including the use of virtual meetings and interactions with each other as well as with the public via Zoom, use of the app Waitwhile, the elimination of most cash payments for services in favor of online transactions, upgraded software, and the forwarding of calls to staff cell phones when they were off site.
The department heads also commented on the number of their staff who were working virtually — from home or otherwise outside their offices— versus those who continued to work inside the administrative building.
With the exception of the IT/GIS Department where all employees were working remotely, the majority of departments continued to staff their offices in person.
Building and Economic Development, with 38 employees had only three working remotely. Engineering, with 105 employees reported 11 working remotely, and Business Licenses, with five employees, maintained three in the office at all times.
Across the board, department heads all seemed to report similar observations: increased productivity because of fewer distractions and more online functionality, faster access and fewer lines for the public because of the Waitwhile app, the conversion of many hard copy forms to digital, and more streamlined procedures with the increased use of email, phone and virtual meetings.
Commissioners discussed bringing on new employees into a more virtual environment versus the traditional system, but most said that at least initially person-to-person contact and interactions were going to be necessary.
Commission Chair Laura Semanson asked department heads if the new processes and procedures might allow their departments to operate with fewer staff, but there was not an overwhelming response in support of the idea.