How One SFPUC Team Has Navigated Through the Uncertainty of COVID-19

It has been a busy and uncertain season for the SFPUC’s COVID-19 Leaves Team. Since San Francisco’s shelter-in-place went into effect, the SFPUC has seen a drastic shift in San Francisco’s workforce, especially with the City and County of San Francisco’s employees. And as the impacts of the pandemic continued to rapidly change, the SFPUC’s Human Resource Services (HRS) team quickly realized that it was critical to quickly turn around new processes and clear communications to provide support for the SFPUC’s employees. As a result, HRS quickly brought together analysts from Employee & Labor Relations, Return to Work Programs, and Talent Acquisition to create the COVID-19 Leaves Team.

The SFPUC’s COVID-19 Leaves Team has been tasked with understanding local and federal employee leave resources along with creating SFPUC specific processes for employees. Even during “normal times,” the team knew that every employee had a unique situation. In order to provide the best leave options to employees impacted by COVID-19, the COVID-19 Leaves Team knew how important it was to know the details and also to get the bigger picture.

With employees navigating all of the uncertainties of this pandemic with their families, the COVID-19 Leaves Team knew that supporting their colleagues with flexibility to continue working while also caring for themselves and their families provides some form of security. And as the impacts of the pandemic continued to rapidly change, the team knew it was critical to quickly turn around new processes to provide support for the SFPUC’s employees.

Francesca Cozzone, SFPUC Employee Relations Analyst on the COVID-19 Leaves Team, also had to learn how to navigate through uncertainty and a roller coaster of emotions in her own life. Initially, she found herself only being able to focus on one activity at time. Apart from missing her friends and family, Cozzone shared it has been challenging connecting with them emotionally through text messages, emails, and letters. She also missed activities from her daily routine. “I miss reading during my commutes on MUNI, browsing local shops, and walking around the Sunset neighborhood,” she said.

“One of the biggest challenges for me has been not seeing friends and family in person, going out whenever I want to, and being able to go to the grocery store without feeling unsafe,” said Tina Siu, Human Resources Analyst. “I think the world will come out more appreciative of all the little things we took for granted and we will be in a better place soon.”

For Alaine Cantiller, Human Resources Analyst, the health crisis has put a stop on a major milestone in her life: her wedding. “We had to cancel our wedding and related travel plans,” she shared. “We weren’t going to have a huge wedding, but it is still strange and sad to see this part of our lives put on hold.”

As a single mom, Susan Nguyen, Junior Administrative Analyst, suddenly found herself juggling two full time jobs – one in her normal role at the SFPUC and another homeschooling her five year old child. “My daughter’s school shut down two weeks prior to San Francisco’s shelter-in-place orders,” she said. Nguyen created a little office and schooling area in their room as a dedicated work space for them. She has spent her lunch hours and weekends helping her daughter complete assignments and making sure she stays on track. “Every minute has to be planned out, so I can be attentive to my child’s needs (personal and educational) and attentive to my job duties.”

The SFPUC Leaves Team from top left to bottom right: Joan Philpott, Francesca Cozzone, Alaine Catiller, Susan Nguyen, and Tina Siu.

As the COVID-19 Leaves Team continue to advise their fellow SFPUC colleagues through muddy waters, they have heard stories of hope and inspiration.

My glimpse of hope is seeing others invest in the survival of others, mostly strangers,” shared Cozzone. “Making and wearing masks, shopping local, curbside pick-ups, delivering food to the elderly, etc. I hope that doesn’t change.” Cozzone shared how appreciative she is to still have a job, be able to work from home, and have a partner that cares for her. “It is gut wrenching to know that is not the same story for others.”

Nguyen has seen people come together and continue to assist the senior community with food delivery. Most importantly, she is inspired by communities coming together instead of pointing fingers. During this time, she has found comfort in nature and going outside for fresh air.

Cantiller shared that although her heart aches for in-person social interactions with friends and family, she is grateful that technology has still provided a way for them to connect. She hopes the Bay Area will continue to leverage technology to find a solution to COVID-19 soon.

For Joan Philpott, Leaves Manager, she is still trying to find hope during this challenging time. “I’ve realized how much I took for granted. I’ve been missing all the social interaction with friends. I took so much for granted,” she said. But this time isn’t all for naught for Philpott. She has developed a deep respect for the behind-the-scenes essential personnel that continue to show up to work every day, in spite of what they have to deal with and the risks they are taking in supporting the City’s response to COVID-19. “I am so grateful for what the City is doing to keep their employees safe and working.”

Siu shared it has been a privilege to support and advise SFPUC employees to her best ability. “I want to help them experience minimal impact financially with the rapid changes. I know firsthand how important flexibility is to our diverse workforce and to be able to allow the appropriate accommodations, such as telecommuting, intermittent leave, and reduced work schedule,” she shared.

Collectively, the COVID-19 Leaves Team has found a deeper sense of meaning in their day-to-day as human resources professionals serving in emergency response and providing the best options to employees during this time.

Cozzone shared that although it could be difficult to see the positive impact public service has on a day-to-day basis, City employees have stepped up and continued going into work, knowing that there is a risk to their health and their family’s health. “Right now, we are all experiencing instability, zero control. Being able to provide support and help our employees during this time, keeps me grounded,” said Cozzone.

Philpott described how critical being in public service has been for her, especially during this unprecedented time. “It’s so important to help employees be able to continue to work, but also give them the leave opportunities they need for their personal situations,” Philpott reflected. “It has given more purpose to each member of the COVID-19 Leaves Team.”