Workshops on telework, telehealth, and community engagement draw large crowds during pandemic

It seems likely that social distancing, in one form or another, is likely to be with us for some time. Given that inescapable fact, what are some of the tools and practices that are available to help ensure that Minnesota residents are able to continue to work, access healthcare, and participate in local governance?

Might these tools and practices offer quality of life and environmental benefits that extend beyond confronting the current challenge of COVID-19?

CERTs and the Minnesota GreenStep Program came together to examine these questions in a series of four webinars centered around the GreenStep Best Practice actions relating to telework, telehealth, and community engagement.

1. Public Meetings in the Age of Social Distancing

The first webinar—Public Meetings in the Age of Social Distancing—featured a presentation by Pam Whitmore, the Collaboration and Mediation Manager at the League of Minnesota Cities. Pam provided vital information about Open Meeting Law requirements for virtual public meetings, comment times, and statutory public hearings.

Watch webinar recording

Download slides

2. Telework Best Practices and Impacts: Transportation Environment and Workplace

The second webinar in the series was Telework Best Practices and Impacts: Transportation Environment and Workplace, with guest speakers Adeel Lari and Frank Douma from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Adeel and Frank presented on the environmental and workplace benefits to telecommuting. They focused on research they did with creating eWorkPlace in the Twin Cities region (prior to the COVID situation).

From their employer study evaluating telework at their businesses they found that 75% felt productivity stayed the same or increased and that 95% of employers planned to continue or expand their telework program. The benefits also included increased job satisfaction and reduced absenteeism. The major challenge to making the switch was more cultural than technical.  

Telecommuting also had significant impacts on road congestion.  Adeel stated that just a 5% increase in telecommuting would virtually eliminate traffic congestion in the Twin Cities. Beyond the workplace culture, one of the other biggest challenges to overcome is making sure that workers have access to high speed, reliable broadband internet. These challenges; however, are not insurmountable and the COVID-19 situation is forcing many companies and organizations to accelerate their transition to telework.  The big question is whether people will return to the office when social distancing is over.  

Watch webinar recording

Download slides

3. Virtual Community Engagement with Design for Community Regeneration

Our third webinar focused on some specific tools that can be used to engage community members… virtually! Prior to social distancing requirements, community engagement was already moving to more virtual platforms, but now that trend is accelerating. In Virtual Community Engagement with Design for Community Regeneration, Tim Griffin and Jonee Kulman Brigham (both from the Minnesota Design Center) looked at some of the challenges, opportunities, and emerging approaches for virtual engagement.

They shared their experience and plans as they prepared to collaborate with the cities of Warren, Hallock, and Crookston on a “geodesign” process that combines GIS applications, Zoom, and other platforms, with the overall aim of engaging community members in imagining regenerative futures for their cities and for the region.

Discussing the role of social crowdsourcing ideas, Jonee explained, “It's important, I think, to not only know that your input is going into the planners, but also to be able to see your neighbors’ input. We're social animals. And so if you see other people contributing ideas, you're more likely to contribute ideas, and you start to get this community sense of the conversation, not just individual pieces of feedback. Both are important.”

Watch webinar recording

Download slides

4. Telehealth and Telemedicine in Minnesota Communities

The fourth and final webinar in the series was Telehealth and Telemedicine in Minnesota Communities. Telehealth (electronic transfer of medical information for the purposes of patient care) and telemedicine (the use of these technologies to deliver care at a distance) have developed over decades, but in become ubiquitous in the context of social distancing. These practices offer broad benefits that can extend well beyond the current pandemic, from improving health care access to reducing vehicle trips.

In our fourth webinar, Dr. Jonathan Neifeld, Director of the Great Plains Telehealth Resource and Assistance Center, offered an overview of telehealth, Minnesota’s regulatory framework, trends, barriers, and opportunities. Those opportunities extend to local healthcare providers in rural areas as well, as Dr. Neifeld explains: 

“We constantly hear of organizations that think that telehealth is… folks from outside the region coming into provide services, but it is possible to configure it such that it is the rural provider accessing remote services and delivering them to the patient. And in that way, remaining a viable part and critical part of the local healthcare infrastructure.”

Watch webinar recording

Download slides

Presenter Slides


Get MN clean energy news & opportunities

We encourage reuse and republishing of this article. All Clean Energy Resource Teams news posts are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license, meaning you can share and adapt the work as long as you give us credit. We'd also love it if you link back to the original piece. Have questions or want to chat? Drop us a line.