Suddenly Virtual: How Texting Can Enhance Public Workforce Service Delivery

May 4, 2020

Highlights texting services that workforce staff can use during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as best practices.

by Amanda Bombino

Over the past few weeks, the Heldrich Center launched its Suddenly Virtual series of products exploring the initial response of the public workforce system to the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders. Thus far, the products in the series have focused on delivering virtual workforce servicesoffering guidance for frontline service providers, and providing a toolkit for communicating with clients and co-workers.

Our research showed that one of the primary services local workforce areas are offering to their job seeker customers is ongoing case management via phone and text. While some staff are simply using personal cell phones for phone calls and texts, many have turned to texting services so that they can “mask” their private number and more easily manage group and individual texts to customers.

In this post, we highlight a few of these services and share some of the best practice tips we gathered from workforce staff. 

TextNow is a free service that allows users to create an alternative phone number for calling and texting. With features such as voicemail, group texting, and conference calls, TextNow allows for efficient and seamless communication. Additionally, TextNow can be used on a cell phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer, which contributes to the platform’s versatility. Frontline staff can text clients using TextNow, which allows them to safeguard personal phone numbers and maintain a degree of privacy. This becomes incredibly beneficial for case managers and other frontline staff who wish to maintain direct contact with clients while working remotely. 

Benefits include:

  • Free phone number
  • Free calling and texting over WiFi
  • Multiple methods of communication make client contact more flexible

Remind is a free online platform that streamlines virtual contact both in groups and one-on-one. In addition, frontline staff can make announcements to an entire group. Like TextNow, Remind does not require users to share personal phone numbers. While the app is primarily geared toward educators, its functions are universal and can be used in spaces outside of education. Frontline staff can easily send files to clients, such as informational packets and worksheets. Remind’s messaging capabilities are also helpful for staff to forward information about public resources, such as food pantries. In addition, Remind’s strict adherence to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) privacy regulations ensures that any and all personal information is encrypted and protected from third-party use. Remind’s security features are modeled after its goals to promote user control of personal data and conduct routine audits of security practices to protect user information.

Benefits include:

  • Job seekers do not need a smartphone, just the ability to receive text messages
  • Job seekers can join by sending a text message
  • Can be used to support remote learning
  • Attention to security and safely encrypting user information eases privacy concerns

Guide by Cell is a mobile technology service that enables organizations to quickly send information to large groups via text message. Also, Guide by Cell allows organizations to send audio and text files to recipients. For workforce professionals, this service can be especially helpful when sending general announcements and other information at a larger capacity. Service packages for Guide by Cell are customizable, with flexible month-to-month contracts. To request a service quote, click here.

Benefits include: 

  • With options to pre-record audio and schedule messages, administrators can efficiently streamline important information to groups
  • Crowdsource feature allows recipients to leave comments and share thoughts, which encourages active feedback
  • Administrators can monitor engagement via general statistical reports (e.g., how long an audio clip was heard, number of page views)

Feedback from workforce staff using these services indicates that they appreciated the privacy and the immediacy of contact with job seekers who were more likely to respond to text messages than to emails. This is especially true for job seekers who may lack access to computers and broadband. 

Staff also reported that texting allowed them to provide a surprising array of services. One Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) case manager reported using Remind to send daily inspirational messages and job search worksheet packets to her customers. She also shared links to resources, such as the locations of local food pantries, and conducted daily check-ins to see how job seekers were faring. Other staff were sending links to job leads and announcements about various COVID-19 resources and supports. 

Our research showed that texting services can provide a valuable lifeline to job seekers in these challenging times, especially when used to inspire and support. Going forward, workforce programs should develop a robust, comprehensive strategy for using texting services to provide coaching and resources as part of their overall virtual service delivery approach. 

Amanda Bombino is a research intern at the Heldrich Center; she is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science at Rutgers University.