Government agencies that are committing to telework beyond COVID-19
The initial surge of government employees working remotely in response to COVID-19 has led to reflections on how well it’s working (or not), and what the new public service normal will look like.
Agencies leading the change
The transition to mass government telework has been fraught with various concerns, but many agencies are reporting productivity gains and program improvements since employees stopped working from physical office buildings.
- Social Security Administration saw a rise in productivity and a drop in backlogged cases
- Veterans Benefits Administration exceeded performance goals and connected with thousands of Veterans via tele-townhalls
- Department of Homeland Security reported “great efficiencies” and “higher utilization”
- Department of Transportation reported an “absolute increase” in productivity
- Department of Veterans Affairs got positive feedback about their online telehealth services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded coverage of telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries
- U.S. House of Representatives found that they could conduct business “efficiently” without convening in person
The evolution from co-located to fully distributed work and flexible, autonomous teams is a gradual uphill climb and won’t happen overnight – but now that agencies have had a taste of the benefits and savings that can result from the effort, some are implementing telework-at-scale as a key part of their long term modernization strategy.
- Department of Defense plans to keep many parts of its enhanced teleworking capabilities
- U.S. Postal Service and NASA say they will use telework lessons learned going forward
- Deloitte has identified billions of dollars in potential savings if government adopts long-term telework
- Center for Digital Government has released a resource guide to help state and local IT leaders navigate the “next normal” for COVID-19 recovery and beyond
- Travis County, Texas announced plans to keep 75% of staff working remotely after COVID
- State of California released a proposal for “expanded long-term telework strategies”
- Officials at Wausheka County, Wisconsin (among other state and local governments) say that telework has “changed the way we work forever”
- Brattleboro, Vermont plans to “definitely allow more [teleworking] in the future”
To prepare for successful long term telework, agencies need to gauge their readiness in the following areas:
- Laptops and collaboration tools for staff
- Up-to-date telework and security policies
- Cloud and modern technology adoption
- Digital forms and e-signatures
- Training / change management
Build capacity through training
The last item on this list is one of the most important. Empowering agency staff to use digital tools and work collaboratively is the only way to get the full benefits of a distributed workforce.
Andrea Ippolito, Lecturer in the Engineering Management Program at Cornell University, recently discussed the role of digital training at federal agencies with the prospect of continued telework.
“The federal government needs to lean into having a digital-first mentality … and we need to educate our workforce on how to use these digital tools so they feel confident and can continue to iterate and improve upon them,” she said.
A model for this approach is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which provided training for its workers during their move to telework, including:
- Instructional pamphlets on topics like using Microsoft Teams at home and connecting to the agency’s virtual-private network (VPN)
- “Telework Test Day” to see if systems could handle the increased load of hundreds of remote workers
- Virtual instruction courses to build tech skills for agency staff
Similarly, several states that had embraced telework prior to coronavirus, including online training programs for staff, were able to adapt more effectively when the pandemic hit. Recommendations for post-COVID telework include the evaluation of staff roles and the providing of infrastructure and logistics support needed to empower successful distributed government teams.
Regardless of whether your agency made any provisions or training for telework prior to the pandemic, this is the moment to seize the opportunity that “forced telework” has presented – the chance for government to become more flexible, modern, and resilient. Give your workforce the tools and training they will need to deliver services in the modern era, and they just might surprise you with how much they get done.
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