Making the most of technology during COVID-19

Sharing glimmers: Tampa Bay Business and Wealth talks to local business leaders and influencers on their silver linings, during the uncertainty of this global pandemic.

If you have a silver lining to share, please contact Bridgette Bello at [email protected].

Making the most of remote technology has been a consistent silver lining throughout various industries, even in some unexpected places. Within your walks, or bike rides, around Tampa Bay you’ve probably noticed one industry outside and hard at work: construction. We caught up with the president of MatCon Construction Services, Derek Mateos, a local, family-run business. As Mateos admits, “the construction industry has always been on the slower end of implementing technology, and innovation, because we’ve been doing things the same way for hundreds of years. But this situation forced us to embrace technology. We’re going to paperless systems, invoice routing workflow procedures that didn’t exist in real time until this happened. They were on our radar, as goals we wanted to achieve in the future, but now we had to implement them quickly. That’s helping streamline various processes, and even with this remote situation, we’re seeing good production.”

Mateos credits the quick communication capabilities, and nationwide efforts of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade association representing more than 21,000 members, for supporting the construction industry’s status as essential workers. Mateos lauds the positive impacts he’s felt on the management side. “We’re all closer as a team. The seriousness of the issue has turned the safety discussion in our industry, already vital, up another level. We’re wearing our gloves, we’re putting on our masks, taking temperatures or verbal wellness checks, we’re maintaining that six-foot distance. The anticipatory, preventative planning — thinking ahead of possible solutions to allow our workers to keep working safely in a wide variety of situations — has been amazing. We’re working in hospitals, airports, highly regulated, high security/ high safety environments, so we’re watching and learning from the best.”

Mateos emphasizes, “I’m really proud of our field workers, our guys and gals on the front lines. Of course, I knew they were tough, but it’s humbling to see how proud they are to say, ‘this is an essential industry and we’re working.’ To support their workers, Matcon has kept the office open throughout the situation, closing the public areas and moving to a strict rotation to keep office staff separated in shifts. “It is very important to us to have someone available at all times,” says Mateos, “somewhere our people can come to if any issues or dangers come up.”

Another area where technology is not usually a key factor is in the nonprofit sector, especially volunteering and interacting with children and young adults. But Think Big for Kids, a nonprofit that guides 6th – 12th graders on future career possibilities with mentorship and skills development, had to quickly think outside the box when it comes to using technology. As Amy Alley, executive director, explains: “Even though we can’t physically meet right now, we’re relying on social media messages to the kids, and focusing on building up more of a virtual content library so that we can still communicate and keep career exploration top of mind in these times. We’re collaborating with more organizations like Junior Achievement, and cross-tagging with our partners like The Boys and Girls Club, with their virtual efforts, so we can all move in the same direction to reference resources and programs.”

It’s a way to ensure “all boats rise with the tide,” as Alley describes. One recent technological success was when Think Big took their spring break career camp virtual:  “our group of kids with The Boys and Girls Clubs usually go through a week of field trips, and meetings at companies while working with mentors face to face on job-readiness skills like resume writing and interviewing. We partnered, closely, with a handful of our partner companies to do virtual field trips — Nielson and Reliaquest and Caspar Companies — and offered our mentoring services online, during that week. To conclude, we had a large group video call with our kids, the mentors and company leaders. Our kids got to share updates as to how they’re doing, where they need help, where they’re still looking for resources. We could work to make those connections and make things happen for them, even without the face to face human interaction.”

Tony DiBenedetto, former founder and CEO of Tribridge, who started Think Big through his experiences volunteering in the Tampa Bay community, also points out how the move to remote interaction has an unexpected silver lining for the future of the NPO: “our vision for Think Big has always been that we wanted to expand this program beyond the Bay area, and take it nationally, but we were concerned about the physical limitations. The silver lining for us is that it has forced us to take on virtual faster. We’re getting more people volunteering who can do a career showcase online, or volunteer for mentoring, virtually.” Taking mentoring remote opens up opportunities for more volunteers, says DiBenedetto, as it welcomes those who may have a hard time scheduling a face to face meeting but could easily build in a virtual hour to connect with underserved youth. As DiBenedetto concludes, “In a weird way, it is progressing our long-term vision for expansion by forcing us to do virtual quicker — reaching more kids, across more space, providing more opportunities for someone to take on career mentoring.”

Not surprisingly, Mateos, Alley and DiBenedetto all enjoy taking a break from technology in their personal lives. Whether it’s Alley and her young children chasing lizards, or exploring in the backyard, or “getting creative in the kitchen by cooking every night” like DiBenedetto. As Mateos concludes, “we’re doing all these things that you put on the New Year’s Resolution list, but usually get pushed to the side. Sometimes it’s challenging to have children homeschooling when you’re also working out of the house. But it’s also a real pleasure to be with them throughout the day, to know that they’re right here, close by for a game of dominoes or basketball in the driveway.”





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