Covid-19, public libraries, public offices

Public Offices and Libraries amidst COVID-19: How Online Appointment Scheduling can Help You Operate Safely

Public offices and libraries amidst Covid-19: How online appointment scheduling can help you operate safely

In the space of a few weeks, the world has completely turned upside down. With stay-at-home state orders being lifted, individuals now are looking to get back to work. 

Many businesses have reopened which means the need for legal and notary services, unemployment assistance, licensing, certification, permits etc. will significantly increase. 

This means you can expect an increase in the influx of people in your offices and your departments now will be full. It is now more important than ever that you ramp up your operations and help the country get up-and-running again! 

But can you just get back to your start-of-the-year routines post COVID-19? 

Resuming services post-COVID-19 will require you to be creative and alter the traditional way of doing things. As an employer and a public servant – it is your responsibility to make strategies focussed on safer ways of working.

Scheduling apps now help keep customer services running smoothly while maintaining a safe work environment. In the process, they provide many improvements over the existing workflows. Now is the best time to go for that digital drive that you were wishing to take for quite some time.

How appointment scheduling can help ensure safety at public offices and libraries 

Consumers and employees are trying their best to avoid exposure. They’re altering their long-acquired habits and changing the way they do things. It’s time you do it too! 

Some licensing offices in Missouri have completely closed in-office services, some have reduced their working hours, with some providing lobby services by appointment only. Reducing office hours won’t necessarily help curb the long queues as there’s a chance of more people visiting the office in the reduced service hours.

How to work with reduced staff and cater to clients at the same time? How to ensure a safe workplace with the increasing inflow of people in your building? And what about making services go virtual? 

Keep reading to know what all you can do and how can appointment scheduling help!

1. Curbing in-person visits and eliminating walk-ins

The most common directive given by public health officials during this crisis is to avoid large groups of people. Although waiting rooms don’t amass a considerable number of people, they still possess the risk of community spread.

You need to reduce down your branch consultations and shift to alternative modes of service. Organizations are using technology and challenging the traditional ways of working like:

  • The US Patent and Trademark Office waived handwritten signature requirements and allowed the filing of plant patent applications and correspondence via patent electronic filing systems.
  • The state of Alabama and many other states allowed remote notarization by the use of video conferencing technology.

However, there are many services that require people to be present on the premises.

Idaho Falls Public Library is open amidst these times and is helping its clients file for unemployment claims and other benefits. If they’re not open, people don’t file. 

IFPL realized the need to stay open and hence took several steps to maintain social distancing such as:

  • Moving furniture to maintain the 6-feet-distance between patrons and staff.
  • Temporarily reducing the number of computers from thirty-five to eleven. 
  • Limiting computer usage to just one hour per cardholder instead of four hours earlier. 

Although these measures helped to maintain the in-premise social distancing, they led to a drastic increase in the number of people waiting outside the library. This gives us the understanding that unless we reduce the number of people waiting, inside or outside, we’ll possess the risk of spread.

people in library following social distancing

How does appointment scheduling help?

1. Eliminating walk-ins with appointment scheduling

Transitioning from a walk-in model to offering meetings by-appointment-only will help keep transaction volumes steady while minimizing health risks. 

There are many public office and library appointment scheduling tools available that automate the appointment request and scheduling process. Using these, you can set availability as per your organizational practices and control the booking procedure to your convenience.

Several public sector offices such as The Buchanan County in IOWA and the Kokomo Housing Authority in Indiana have shifted to an appointment-only mode to eliminate walk-ins and control office crowding.

2. Controlling the number of people in-office at a time

Online scheduling can help you control capacity in your premises as appointment data gives you a clear view of your day’s schedule. You know the exact number of clients who are scheduled to be in your office at a time which helps you limit further commitments and maintain social distancing. 

You can also shift some meetings from busier days to relatively lighter days to reduce public risks. 

3. E-assistance through virtual appointments

Virtual appointments can also help you shift some of your regular services online. You can provide remote services by combining online appointments with a video-conferencing platform. 

Many states in the United States have allowed remote notarization and oath administration through audio-video communication. An online scheduling tool can set up virtual meetings for you while you can focus on the actual tasks at hand.

Learn more about how you can schedule virtual appointments here!

2. Maintaining workplace safety

To ensure safety, all surfaces where direct customer interaction takes place such as bank teller areas, desks where there is customer interface, et cetera should be cleaned and disinfected on a frequent/regular basis.

Additionally, frequent disinfection of high-touch surfaces made of plastic or metal, such as keyboards, grab bars, elevator buttons, and railing should be done. The EPA has developed a list of disinfectants you can use against SARS-CoV-2.

A liquid handwash bottle kept on a stool with a printed notice on two sheets of paper beside it. The notice asks everyone to wash their hands before entering the public office to maintain workplace safety.

How does appointment scheduling help?

1. Keeping track of available resources

Reserving times for resources like rooms, equipment, common areas, etc. along with your employees is also important to ensure social distancing in these places. You can do this by allowing staff/visitors to schedule a resource before they visit.

For example, an attorney’s office can book and assign a meeting room for a client’s appointments. With this, they now have a track of their available meeting rooms, and take further appointments as per the room’s availability. 

2. Disinfecting office spaces and resources

Appointments facilitate the deep cleaning of office spaces after each use. Online Appointment scheduling tools today let you automatically add a brief time slot after each appointment so that you can sanitize yourself and disinfect the office resources used if needed.

If you are tracking resource availability,  you can identify when a room, desk, or any other resource has been used which further eases the disinfection process.

3. Managing staff shifts to maintain social distancing

Many offices may have to work with less than fifty percent of their workforce. You should plan out your reopening to avoid the crowding of office space.

Branches and offices are operating in staggered shifts to avoid cross-contamination among employees. You can divide your staff into groups and fix alternating working days for each group. This helps reduce in-office consultations in a day. Also, if one person from a group gets infected, the other group has still avoided contact.

Furthermore, employees who don’t have an in-office working day can work from home. 

employees in office wearing masks and following social distancing

How does appointment scheduling help?

1. Scheduling shifts to maintain social distancing

Appointment scheduling tools today let you assign specific staff to appointments. Or in other words, book staff along with client appointments – similar to resource booking.

This helps you keep a track of agents’ workloads and goes a long way in avoiding crowding at agent desks. You can divide your workforce into shifts based on the services that they can cater to and plan your work shifts weeks in advance.

2. Scheduling shifts as per service demand

Customer data and reporting from appointment scheduling tools let you identify the services in demand. 

If the demand for a certain service (like unemployment support services during these times) is high, staff shifts can be scheduled to accommodate the change in demand. Staff not on in-office duty can be assigned virtual appointments.

4. Prioritizing assistance to vulnerable groups

According to Opening Up America Again, vulnerable populations include all elderly people, as well as “individuals with serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised, such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.”

Due to the disproportionate effect of the Coronavirus on vulnerable populations, special care should be given to them. Austin-Travis County has taken numerous measures to identify, help, and communicate with its vulnerable populations.

You can adopt “golden hours” at the beginning of the day to serve these vulnerable populations. During this time, you can also provide priority assistance to the front-line workers in need.

How does appointment scheduling help?

 1. Dedicate time slots for the vulnerable

Scheduling tools let you collect client information through forms and you can identify populations in need of special care and assistance to serve them accordingly. 

You can create dedicated time slots and allow only specific groups to book during these time slots. This will allow you to provide priority assistance to vulnerable groups and to those in need of special assistance.

5. Knowing and recording who is visiting

Public health officials and front-line workers need our support and assistance to reduce the spread. Every office should collect and retain the names and contact information of all visitors for at least a month. This will help health officials in tracing people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Several banks and organizations have also made it mandatory for customers to provide a screening questionnaire upon entry. A non-contact thermometer gun is used to screen staff and clients entering the building. Employers are conducting daily in-person or virtual symptoms check before entry into the work-site. 

Check out these visitor screening questionnaire forms from the Vermont Department of Health and USS Steel.

But collecting the customer data and screening forms involves manpower and requires more in-office time. This calls for employers to opt for digital tools to reduce efforts in these processes.

A mobile screen showing a Covid-19 Screening Tool by Apple. The tool helps in understanding Covid-19 and gives a detailed explanation about what we can do to look out for each other. The tool has a “Start Screening” Button and separate sections for “About Covid-19” and “What you can do to look out for each other”

How does appointment scheduling help?

1. Maintaining a visitor register

While scheduling a meet or a visit, you collect and store data for each appointment. Moreover, online scheduling tools enable you to store and search historical visitor data in a click. This data further facilitates contact tracing, in case exposure to the virus is identified.

2. Providing a better and faster service

You can ask your clients to provide additional information such as file/case number, agent assigned, service required et cetera before your scheduled meeting. Online scheduling tools can be set up to have your clients fill an input form while they are requesting an appointment. 

You can ask for specific information such as their social security number, or the date of their last visit, or any other such information that you need to understand their needs and provide a faster service. 

You can also leverage these tools to digitally collect screening forms and be aware of their travel histories, medical conditions, and ask if they are experiencing any kind of COVID-19 symptoms. You can use this information to further approve/deny appointments manually depending on the case.

The post-COVID benefits of Appointment Scheduling

This is the right time to reinvent – and a need to build the systems you wish to have invested in before. 

This pandemic has reduced the technology adoption timeframe drastically. Both the employees and the consumers are now open to working with newer ways of working. 

This gives employers an opportunity amidst this chaos. 

The mix of online and offline services to engage customers in more personalized ways has been on the minds of public sector organizations for quite some time now. These efforts will see a ramp-up further post-COVID-19. 

Also, once we are beyond this situation, the switch to digital modes of service combined with the switch to virtual and pre-scheduled appointments will help ease staff workflows and generate greater customer satisfaction. 

So any trend that you adopt right now is likely to stay intact in the post-COVID-19 world as well. 

Ready to introduce online scheduling to your workplace?  

We at Appointy have been helping organizations and businesses to serve better by making appointment scheduling easier. We are fulfilling the scheduling needs of government institutions, universities, libraries, embassies, and thousands of organizations in the United States and across the globe. 

Being an easy-to-use, online scheduling and client management software,

Appointy can help you implement social distancing guidelines, adapt to the post-COVID-19 world, and reopen your offices safely.

We are providing priority assistance to organizations looking to implement scheduling during these times. Our support team will help you get up and running within 15 minutes. Book a demo with us today or get started on your own with your free account.

If you need a custom-made, tailored solution for your organization, contact our sales team.

Disclaimer: The information which is summarised herein does not constitute medical or other professional advice and is general in nature. It does not take into account your specific circumstances and should not be acted on without full understanding of your current situation and future goals and objectives. In doing so you risk making commitment to a strategy that may not be suitable to your needs. Whilst we have tried to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the contents of this website, you should verify all information and facts independently.

About Appointy

We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, and resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium businesses face every day. 

If you have any thoughts on this blog or would like to chat about your business struggles and achievements, let us know in the comments below. 

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