REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. –
This week marks one year since much of the workforce began working remotely to stay safe from what was then known as the novel coronavirus.
Shortly after sending its people home, the Department of Defense launched the Commercial Virtual Remote environment — a secure, virtual space leveraging the Microsoft Teams platform. With its chat and video features, “Teams,” as it is commonly referred to, is now a teleworking norm. Offices use it to collaborate in group environments, as well as provide one-on-one assistance.
Mike Garrett was an early user of the platform and said he and his coworkers immediately “geeked out” with the features. Garrett, the chief of the Acquisition Integration Branch under the Resource Management Directorate of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, said his office began using Teams by sending funny GIFs in the chat section to stay connected. However, once he started exploring the platform more, Garrett quickly realized the collaborative tool could be used to assist new employees and customers.
“Our office before COVID-19 was very social and it was really convenient to go over to someone’s cubicle and show them how to do something on their screen … Laying things out one-on-one is helpful and I think most of us learn really well that way — being able to visually move through the process,” he said. “When we started teleworking, and before we got Teams, it was miserable. I was on the phone trying to describe what [my coworkers] should see on their screens. I hated it.”
Although he had never used Teams before, Garrett said he and his coworkers started sharing the features with each other in early July, likening it to swapping recipes. He said the ability to share screens is what initially drew them in to start exploring the capabilities.
“It was so good because now I can share my screen and say, ‘here, look at what I’m looking at.’ They could follow along and see what I was talking about; that was really handy.”
As handy as screen sharing was, it also came with its challenges. Garrett said it was not always easy to get everyone online at the same time, because technology is not perfect. Some people had video or network issues so they would dial in and then only have audio.
“When we discovered the recording feature — that was awesome — it might be my favorite feature about Teams,” he said. “If we can’t get together, I can go in there, make a recording and you just watch it at your convenience. When I send you the email link, I can even say, ‘go to the 3 minute and 30 second mark … right there, that’s where we do XYZ, and if you skip forward to 15 minutes, that’s where I do the deep dive into ABC,’ and you can view it as many times as you want.”
Jessica Dunaway is Garrett’s supervisor and she is proud of his innovative way of connecting the team, which is why she nominated him to be an AMCOM MVP for his outstanding duty performance, commitment to excellence and contributions to the AMCOM contracting mission.
She said, “Mike had two team members who were hired after we all went home and he was trying to figure out a way to not leave those employees hanging — because they joined our office during a difficult time when they can’t learn from their peers. He came up with the videos as the next best thing. He said he researched it and this was something he was going to do for his team. I thought it was such a great idea.”
Nearly every member of Garrett’s team makes videos now and he said the process does not have to be intimidating. Scripts and rehearsals help and, since their products are screen shares, he said he does not worry about being “camera-ready.”
“You don’t want to be distracted by how you look,” he said. “Focus on the work and walk through the process that you’re demonstrating. Have the documents you need open and just know you can always make another one if you mess up or forget a part.”
Dunaway encourages other supervisors and employees to embrace the situation and learn new options to get the job done.
“The information is available; seek it out and ask questions,” she said. “A lot of times we get stuck in a rut because it’s familiar, but there may be another way. Mike’s team didn't miss a beat when we transitioned to telework. They adapted to the technology available and then they used it to stay in communication with each other.”