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March 31, 2020 by admin
Citizen Planner, Local, Planning News

Pandemics and The Planning Office

What a time to be alive. As we all face the looming COVID-19 Pandemic, we are realizing how the city planning office is being impacted. It seems rather trivial to write this, but it also seems somewhat important. Yesterday was the right time to plan for this. But it’s too late. So how do you adapt the workplace to deal with a pandemic? Hopefully, the experiences of the Salt Lake City (SLC) Planning Division will be helpful. I am not going to pretend to have all the answers or that what we have done is right. But it has been an educational experience and something that is opening a new mindset to innovations and how we work. And, when your workplace gets closed by an earthquake, it adds a whole new element. So here are some quick lessons learned from Panquake2020.

First, assume that you will still be working. This could be a big assumption, but you will be asked to either continue your regular duties or take on a whole new role. Resuming duties will be different. Nothing will work the same way.

Second, establish protocols for working remotely. This is critical. It builds trust. People are going to be stressed out, distracted by world events, and dealing with many other important things. Don’t make work one of the stresses. Communicate so people know what is going on and what to expect. This goes in both directions. Establish weekly goals. You don’t need to have every detail ironed out. Pick the three or four things that you need to do and stick to them. Check-in with staff and discuss the week in review, not so you can verify what they have done but to identify the obstacles that make working remotely difficult and challenging. The workday is going to be very different from home versus in the office.

Figure out how your core functions are going to work. What I mean by core functions are rather basic. How are applications submitted? How are public notices sent out? How are properties posted? How do you communicate with applicants and the public? How do you do that when you cannot have face-to-face contact or printers, scanners, and office supplies are not accessible? The best part about this is that you will find new ways to accomplish the tasks when you have no other choice. Necessity will lead to innovative changes faster than anything else will. Use it to your advantage.

Start the day revisiting the day before and provide updates to your staff, mayor, city manager, and anyone else who needs to know. Consider letting the public know too. Show them that you are still working and still trying to be responsive.

Finally, be prepared to get it wrong. You will. We are getting a lot of things wrong. But there is only one way to get things right, and that is to make mistakes. The situation creates the necessity to act quickly and adapt as necessary. Some things will work, but expect more to fail. Convince yourself and everyone around you that things will be worked out. You may even find better ways and better reasons to work.

*Written by APA Utah contributor Nick Norris, Planning Director for Salt Lake City

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