Petrow notes that the projects aren't delivered as a corporate-mandated program. "Our central stations get to pick what they want to do and where they want to work at for these community service projects," she says -- and it's an element that encourages not only team building, but also active participation.
Ed Bonifas and Rick Raper at Alarm Detection Systems say they likewise hold a variety of company events to create community and enjoyment for central station workers. Raper says that one thing he's learned is that central stations face the challenge that while some employees are enjoying an event like a company barbecue or movie day, there's another team that has to man the central station during that time. With that in mind, Raper and Bonifas say they make sure to reward that team as well, perhaps at a different time, but in a way that all employees can enjoy the camaraderie and fun that they try to offer.
The Soft Skills
Beyond the calendar of events, and beyond recognition programs that recognize those operators who handled the "actuals", everyone we interviewed agreed that there has to be an underlying set of soft skills that each manager has. From issues of fairness to settling employee disputes, things occur in the close quarters of a central station that have to be reacted to swiftly before employee morale and togetherness can collapse.
"Remember, the operators are seeing people at their worst," says Alarm Detection Systems' Ed Bonifas. "Imagine that if you're on the night shift, the only people that you get to talk to outside of the room you're with are customers that you're calling up in the middle of the night, waking them up, and then telling them that they've got to get out of bed, and go out in the cold and drive down to their building to meet the police on what could be another false alarm. That's a daily occurrence for central station operators. So the ability to handle that kind of pressure is important but also the people skills and being able to coach people through that is some of what we rely on Rick for."
And what goes into being a good coach? And what goes into being a good manager, since it's the daily actions of central station managers that are the best practices we have to look toward?
"I make it very clear to them that I am available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and that there is no stupid question," says Raper. "I never want them to be afraid to give me a call for any reason. I'd rather have them give me a call about something small and unimportant than to not give me a call when it is something that's needed."
"A central station manager has to have the ability to hire and train," explains Vector's Petrow. "It's the people part of the job that is the most difficult. When you talk about technology and the hardware, that's not where the obstacles are. It's about the soft skills; it's about getting people that are working usually in a closed-in room, 24 hours a day, and it's not the easiest of conditions to work in and they are not the highest paid positions. So you have to be able to select the right kind of people, motivate them, and keep them focused to do a very important job in a fairly redundant set of tasks. So it is a real challenge."
"People know they are treated fairly," he notes. "So you don't have an employee that is late all the time and they're still there, while some who is late a couple times and ends up getting dismissed. Everyone here knows exactly what the rules are and they're applied evenly.
"I think that consistency with employees is appreciated by the good workers. When you work a shift, you're dependent on that next person getting there, and treating other employees with respect and consideration is really big here. We have to count on you and know that you're going to be there when you say you're going to be there, and if you're not, I don't care whether you're the best operator in the world, how you treat your coworkers can be grounds for termination.