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Cook County anticipates some staff working remotely beyond pandemic

When the realities of an oncoming pandemic sunk in for local government in March 2020, the Cook County Management Information Services Department (MIS) had to get creative.

In order to keep operations rolling, from the highway department to public health and human services, the ability to work remotely became a necessity. Time was not on their side.

Within a month, the MIS team, which is more commonly referred to as the IT Department, built out 60 laptops for county employees to be able to do their work from home. Communication changed from in-person conversations to phone, email and over something called ‘Zoom,’ which at the time was a new word in the vocabulary of most Cook County residents, at least in the context of it being a platform for online interactions.

In spring 2020, Minnesota was in a lockdown as the virus spread across the state. The Cook County Board of Commissioners continued to meet weekly, including a series of special meetings as they navigated how to operate within local and statewide travel bans. The MIS Department made sure county board meetings remained not only visible for local taxpayers and interested residents, but interactive. From the communications side, all of this was accomplished using technology and ingenuity in a short window of time.

As the calendar turns to March 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a reality. However, the way both society and local government function in Cook County amid the pandemic have adapted. Meetings continue to happen remotely, including nearly all those involving the county board and various committees involving county staff or elected officials. Where working remotely was once thought of as unique or burdensome for some county employees, it is now widely viewed as effective and potentially as a cost-saving tool.

Cook County MIS Director Rena Rogers shared this information and more from her department during a report to the Cook County Board of Commissioners Feb. 23. She spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs about a challenging and rewarding year for Cook County in 2020, and what’s to come in 2021 as many county employees continue to work remotely. Listen to the full interview in the audio shared below.