When COVID-19 forced organizations across the world to shut down, many IT leaders found themselves on the frontlines of keeping infrastructures running and empowering entire institutions to work remotely.
Rakesha Davis, Service Desk Manager for the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, was one such IT leader. And thanks to their almost clairvoyant planning, her team absolutely thrived. In fact, she says, after major shifts in February and March, COVID-19 has taught her a lesson or two about balancing working from home and raising her foster children.
Recently, Davis shared how her team adapted to COVID-19, the daily schedule that’s gotten her through the crisis, and the strategy she takes for keeping her kids out of her meetings. She also shared how Columbia University Information Technology is helping their teams tackle this new age of work and the positive management approach that she’s employed to keep her team motivated. For her, it’s all about prioritizing balance, good morale, and time together.
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?
I currently manage the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) IT Service Desk along with Apple Centralized Management, ServiceNow, the CUIMC IT website, student print management and public computer areas and kiosks around campus. I also oversee the management of several smaller application servers that provide IT-related research and remote services to the CUIMC community.
My top priorities are providing a single point of contact for the CUIMC community to access technical support, along with running a scalable, adaptable ticketing system for users to report issues and requests, and ensuring the availability of numerous articles and reports. Overseeing the maintenance of an intuitive website that directs users to information related to IT services, locations, urgent announcements and how-to articles is another key aspect of my role.
Paint a picture of a typical day for me. What is the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
In addition to starting each morning with a prayer, I make sure I remember what day it is, review my calendar, check in on all my foster children and prepare for the day ahead.
Next, I check in with my team members who start the day at 7:30 am and review emails from the previous night. Since I’ve been working from home, I’ve found that I prefer a later breakfast -- more of a brunch -- around 12:00 pm. I review all my documents and talking points for any meetings I have that day, keep an eye on dashboards and metrics for my group, and make sure to send something to everyone on the team on our Slack channel. If things start to spike — meaning a possible outage or change in call volume or tickets — I’m able to quickly communicate with the team to determine what the problem is and the best course of action to communicate to our customers and other IT personnel.
After checking in with our Apple Administration team, ServiceNow Team and ServiceDesk Supervisors on their projects for the day and whether they need my assistance, I also check in with my CIO and Deputy CIO on anything high-level that I need to be aware of and work with our Chief Finance Officer and her team on any issues pertaining to or affecting the team.
Once the work day is over, my focus shifts to home where cooking dinner and sometimes attending church services remotely round out the evenings. And before lights-out, I connect to Google and other restrictive apps to make sure data and Wi-Fi access are disabled on all of my kids’ tablets, phones, computers and TV, as scheduled. It can be a full plate.
What does “balance” mean to you, and in what ways do you feel like you have achieved it?
To me, it means having the right proportion of time each day to handle all of my assigned and required responsibilities at home and at work. That ratio can differ each day, but keeping focus to not overuse one or the other is important. A large part of it is having a schedule and sticking to it. Whether I’m handling personal or work matters, I strive to give my best and make the time required to deal with them successfully.
Attaining work-life balance cannot be done solo. What people, resources and tools do you rely on to get it all done?
I have a diverse community in my corner, and whether they know it or not, they assist me in attaining work-life balance. My faith and family keep me focused. My team also helps keep me grounded. Both of my bosses are supportive and have a good sense of humor. They both keep an open-door policy — which nowadays is more like an open chat window.
The tools that I consistently rely on are ServiceNow, Microsoft Apps, Slack, a pen and paper, a laptop and my phone.
How have you had to adjust your schedule during the COVID-19 crisis?
I’ve had to learn to take a step back. Before the COVID-19 crisis, I don’t think I had work-life balance. COVID helped me to really adjust and balance things better.
My team and I had just finished keeping operations open for 24 hours via 12-hour shifts for the implementation of the Epic Electronic Health System in February before having to do the same in March to help the medical center function as a remote campus. These were big lift projects that we’d never done before. But my team and I had started testing remote operations on an elevated level all the way back in November, and always had some team members working remotely as of two years ago. Before the COVID crisis happened, I had team members volunteer to test working remotely in Africa, Dominican Republic, Canada, the Caribbean, Chicago and Ohio. As a result, we were prepared for the transition to 100% remote work with only minor hiccups along the way.
From a team morale perspective, it’s critical to me that everyone on my team maintain a good work-life balance so they can adjust to being physically away from each other for long periods of time. Doing weekly video meetings with the whole team helps. We send memes, jokes, inspirations, and deals via Slack every day and have celebrated numerous things as a team remotely: two weddings, graduations, new skills certifications, cooking, painting or anything else we’ve discovered since being home.
What resources or support has your company offered you during the crisis?
IT is considered essential, so for those of us that had to come into the office from time-to-time, we had parking, meals, elder care and child care, and several leave packages if we needed to attend to family matters. Any supplies we needed to perform our jobs remotely were also provided.
COVID-19 testing is readily available for all employees and we recently rolled out an app to screen employees daily upon returning to campus to prevent the spread of the virus. Condolence letters were also sent to each team member who has lost a loved one due to the virus by the President of the medical center. From a support standpoint, that was a nice touch.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as you are navigating this ‘new normal’?
Getting enough sun has been difficult. Allowing myself to take off or rest and not be compelled to work just because I am home and not able to freely go places has also been a challenge, as well as not being able to travel.
What advice do you have for other women who are working remotely with their children at home?
You can do this. Do not feel bad about having a family and having to manage family and work. Just go with the flow. It’s okay if you are in the middle of a meeting and your child has a meltdown. It’s happening for a lot of people right now.
Try to create a schedule for your kid that lines up with your schedule for the day. Things will not always go as planned – embrace the chaos and keep moving. Have a plan for meals and snacks for the kids, along with free time for learning, reading and interactive points throughout the day. I find doing cooking, cleaning, or reading together helps so that when it’s meeting time, they respect it. It’s okay to have meetings in your car or closet, too.
What is your favorite way to destress outside of work?
After working on a computer screen all day, TV is not something I’m interested in. I’ve started reading more books and taking early morning walks before everyone gets moving in the city. I also have several plants that I am starting to grow that I’m proud of.
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