Crisis and Opportunity: Network Members Talk About Their New COVID-19 Realities – Yodfat Afek Arazi

Yodfat Afek Arazi is the CEO of the Bat Yam Municipality, in which 160,000 residents live.

“When the coronavirus reached us, we needed to quickly adapt the way we organizationally function very quickly. The number of employees was reduced, people started working from home and remotely.
It’s not easy – when you’re talking about local and central government – this whole idea of ​​working from home. In contrast to the private sector, working from home hadn’t existed in the public sector.

In routine days, no one knows what remote work is; many places simply don’t allow it at all. And suddenly, I say to our employees: ‘Don’t come in. Work from home’. It’s a perceptual challenge that alters everything, but it’s also a technical challenge. Computers, connections, internet. All these need to be quickly dealt with for employees to work optimally.

Initially, everything went crazy. We were focused on the coronavirus emergency, situation assessments, reducing the staff size, providing solutions to problems in the field and implementing scenarios targeted for emergencies.

It took a few days of adjustments before we quickly shifted to operating in an emergency routine. I’m deliberately not using the word ‘crisis’, because this is not just a crisis. This is going to be our routine for the coming days, weeks, and months. This is not some one-time event; it’s our life at the moment. And we’ve got to work with what we’ve got.

Bat Yam is a complex city with a very diverse population. The elderly make up one-third of our population, there is a significant population receiving public assistance, as well as a high rate of children with special needs.
We knew full-well that we needed to find quick solutions for everyone
. We established dedicated call centers – for the elderly, for psychological services, welfare and emergency call centers. As soon as the crisis broke out, we knew that the elderly population would need a call center, so we created a survey to map their needs. We started calling them at home to ask. We thought they just needed food and medicine – and sometimes that’s true. But sometimes they just want to talk, to feel like they’re with someone. We make hundreds of calls to Bat Yam’s elderly residents on a daily basis. And that’s important because it helps with guideline enforcement. An old man who feels lonely when he has no one to talk with will head on down to the bench below his building, something which is dangerous now. When someone calls to ask him how he’s doing and talks to him, it’s not just a social service solution. This is also a means of helping us ensure that all people stay home.

As part of our quick response framework, we’ve dealt with education a great deal. When remote learning was put on hold because of a dispute between the government and teachers’ organizations, I called up our Education Department manager and told him that in two days, we would start a city-wide internet-based education framework for all age groups. And it happened. A digital app for education in the city was launched with lots of content and a set of hours tailored for each age group.

A week later, the Ministry of Education decided to reinstate remote schooling and teaching, but what is important in this incident is the message we conveyed to our residents: we are with you. We were able to give them the sense that we’re working for them and finding solutions even when the government wasn’t providing solutions itself.

One of the things that was important to me from the beginning and certainly remains so today, is planning ahead. It’s not simple and always clear-cut, but we have to plan ahead – whether it’s a day ahead or two weeks ahead. Our employees and volunteers are to provide residents with solutions, and managers are busy with their routine work, as well as with planning for the future. These are two things that must happen together. It provides confidence and more assurance for the organization, even when the situation outside seems chaotic.
So when the Ministry of Health began restricting traffic and people’s movement, we were already prepared with a detailed plan for what this would look like in Bat Yam. We knew we were ready.

We’re currently working on what the municipality will look like after Passover. It seems like students will probably stay home; jobs, we hope, will gradually change their current routines. How will it work? Our employees, for example, will not be able to return to the office because three people work in a small room here. That means I have to rearrange the organizational structure and plan who will work from home when. The work needs to be adapted in a way that takes into account the fact that employees aged 60 and over will likely stay at home for a long period of time. We need to rethink the way services are provided and more.

MAOZ has accompanied me in all sorts of planning steps along the way. We recently started working on preparing for the day after the coronavirus, focusing on how we’ll advance the new municipality. This crisis has also brought about opportunities with it – suddenly everyone is connected to technology. This has created opportunity on the private, local and state levels.

Employees and managers have learned about this thing called ‘working from home’ and people have learned to communicate over the internet. This means that as a municipality, all service-providing can go online. We can, for example, change the property tax help center.
There is going to be a leap in how we provide better, more tailored services faster.
 One of my employees said to me today: ‘I love the coronavirus; I hope it’ll continue’. What he meant was that something new and fast is happening here; it’s special and, in a certain way, positive.

What MAOZ did very quickly as soon as the coronavirus erupted was constantly remind us Network members that they’re with us – they’re here to help us whenever we need it. And this has had a huge and unusual effect in reality. MAOZ’s power for me right now is the power of the Network. It’s full of a ton of accessible, important wisdom from people you value and learn with and from.

It’s lonely to be a CEO on an average day. However, my loneliness is a million times greater now. In the municipality, I have to function as if I’m the military Chief of Staff. When I need help, I can’t let my employees know. I have to be strong for them. MAOZ is a safe space where I can get help, think and consult – especially when I’m dealing with the loneliness of being a CEO. There is a real security “network” that feels safe and secure in times like these.
That’s why we have a group for CEOs. We’re all facing the same challenges, dealing with similar tasks. And there are special insights that are important and that we can transfer to each other and learn from one other.

Food distribution is one example. We started distributing food and noticed in our lists that some families from the Ethiopian community never took the food packages. We realized that we were missing something here and so we started looking into the issue. It turned out that there was no connection between the food basket we were distributing and the specific needs they have in order to make their traditional food. So we fixed the problem began distributing them the things they wanted and needed. I passed this information onto MAOZ so that Network members could also adapt themselves to their respective communities.

I think that MAOZ – and I have been feeling this for years, but even more so today – is a platform that simply propels me forward. I send a message, call and feel comfortable saying: ‘I need help’.
I join a Zoom meeting and then together, with the team, with the Network, I can momentarily put all the weight of my job to the side and develop, think and solve problems. And mostly let someone else come and support me as I do my work.”