On March 16, 2020, aquatics division staff for the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department in Texas reported for work unsure of what the day held. We quickly scrambled to make a game plan to support the city’s recommendations to begin working from home. Later that week, as the dust began to settle, we were just beginning to learn how the full-time staff would utilize communication tools to work remotely. While we knew we still had some things to learn, we knew we needed to implement a digitally delivered in-service to our part-time staff (lifeguards).
Our lifeguards are classified as essential workers and are cleaning and prepping our pools, in addition to providing shower facilities to persons experiencing homelessness and other special city projects. Due to this continuation of work, we needed to continue communications with our staff. Furthermore, we want them to maintain state-mandated in-service requirements for when the day comes that we can re-open. In other words, we needed to figure out how to make digital in-services happen. There were a few other logistical requirements we worked through — software testing, content development, engagement and reporting considerations are some of the things we have learned through this process.
As I previously mentioned, there are a few driving factors behind wanting our staff to continue to complete their weekly in-service requirements: maintain communication with staff and maintain lifeguard in-service requirements for both the Texas Public Pool Code requirement of 60 minutes of training per week for aquatic staff and our internal policy which mirrors the state code. It’s also important to note that while we encourage staff to complete the in-services, we do not provide them with any technical resources to complete the in-service — but we do pay them, therefore it is not completely mandatory like a traditional in-service. However, you are likely to be surprised how many of your staff already possess the technical knowledge and equipment to participate. Additionally, we wanted to keep our staff engaged in their work. We want them to still feel the passion they feel when lifeguarding, and we feel the in-service training provides the foundation of that comradery.
Over the course of any year, our in-service locations differ by facility availability and other business needs. Our current position is different only by the fact that we are forced to implement digital options. As an agency, we have experimented with some blended learning options in the past, but had yet to take the full plunge. My recommendation to anyone is to try to utilize the internal technology tools already available to you. For us this meant expanding our Microsoft Teams meetings to over 100 people per session. In addition, we use Microsoft Forms to create a quiz at the end of the meeting. We’ve also had success uploading the recorded in-service videos to the StarGuard ELITE portal for our staff to watch if they miss the live session. Other options might include free versions of software such as Google Hangouts and Survey Monkey. Things you’ll want to know while you look at options include:
- How many participants are in your meeting?
- What do you need to display?
- Does your staff need to be able to broadcast video/voice/engage in text chat?
Once you’ve thought about some of your logistics, test out the software to see how it works and if it works like you were expecting. Remember, you will need to be able to help your staff walk through some technical difficulties like the link to join the meeting or downloading software.
As you already know, keeping your in-services interesting and engaging will produce the best results for your staff. Digitally delivered in-services are no different and just require some additional planning to ensure smooth execution. We have taken this opportunity to reach out to some of our vendors and external departments to partner on in-service topics. Topics we have covered or are planning to cover include customer service, how to use a scheduling app, employee injury statistics and prevention, drowning awareness, and swim instructor best practices. My goal is that as we get closer to re-opening facilities, we will be able to focus back on lifeguard-specific skills and have our staff ready to lifeguard.
Content is very important, and this cannot be emphasized enough. When producing your video/slideshow/lecture for the in-service, always consider creating your content to drive engagement from your staff. We have found that having one person presenting while a few other staff members manage the chat questions, and potentially stop the presentation if needed, is most productive. These chat monitors can also assist with technical difficulties. Some users are going to be on their phone, which might make their views different than what you expect (try both the computer and phone versions yourself). We have also learned to verbalize when we change slides — if staff are in the chat text, this helps them know to close out and view the slide. Chat engagement seems to be most effective for us, however, we build in time for an open question and answer in the chat or via microphone in all our in-services. Furthermore, we generally join the meetings early to catch up with the staff, and we are available afterward to ensure they can complete the quiz or have any follow up questions. We feel the quiz feature of our in-service is critical due to the large number of participants and our lack of ability to engage with all members on one call. We structure questions around the content of the in-service to ensure they were watching/listening to the entire presentation.
The quiz feature of our in-service functions not only as our way to capture engagement, but it also captures attendance at the same time. With the attendance tracked we can quickly track the in-service and produce a payroll report. As always with data and reporting it depends on your objectives what you’ll need to capture and be able to present. Also, when you’re done don’t forget to report this to your supervisor to note the great accomplishment you’ve completed. Likewise, share with your fellow recreation colleagues in the NRPA discussion boards!
Adam Thompson, CPRP, is an Aquatic Supervisor with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.