Written by FedScoop staff
Public sector agencies are not known for their flexibility when it comes to when, where and how employees work. The demands that accompany their assignments often dictate where their staff members should be located as well as the IT systems they should use. But when the COVID-19 pandemic sent Americans across the country under quarantine, public sector tech leaders were forced to deal with a massive culture shift – the workforce anywhere.
On March 22, 2020, Ohio became the sixth state to declare a coronavirus lockdown. It had only been two weeks since a state of emergency was declared. And meanwhile, Ervan Rodgers, the state’s chief information officer (CIO), had to shift tens of thousands of employees to remote work.
“In two weeks, we got around 30,000 to 55,000 people working from home. It’s lightning fast, ”said Rodgers, speaking at the 2021 VMware-sponsored Public Sector Innovation Summit. Rodgers left his position as CIO in June play a role in the private sector, but shared the lessons he learned during this time. (Watch the full roundtable here.)
While the pandemic would prove disruptive to millions of Americans, there was a silver lining in the way it forced many public sector agencies to rethink how to carry out their missions. Teleworking, as it was once called, no longer accurately described what was happening to the nature of work – or gave an accurate picture of the technological landscape that is revolutionizing what it means to work in the public sector.
“State government has not necessarily been an environment where we have worked from home. It’s a bit frowned upon, ”Rodgers said. “However, I think the pandemic not only sparked innovation, but also gave us the ability to prove that we are, in some cases, much more productive.”
Ohio government employees weren’t alone. At the US Census Bureau in Washington, DC – an agency perhaps best known for its paper forms and army of pencil enumerators – Deputy CIO, Dr Gregg Bailey, fired more than 15,000 employees home in the middle of the decennial population count. .
Strangely enough, the changes brought on by the pandemic were “very good timing for us from a technological point of view,” Bailey said. The office had raced against time to overhaul its IT operations to make the 2020 census the first to be conducted primarily online.
“Because we were starting the census, we had significantly increased our bandwidth. And ironically, the day we grew to 15,000 teleworkers was the highest day for the self-reported Internet census. “We had a huge number, over 100,000 concurrent respondents filling out the census, at the same time we had 15,000 new employees telecommuting.”
Cultural implications: it’s different this time
For Bailey, it’s important for agencies to distinguish between the telecommuting of the past and what happens after the pandemic. It goes “beyond telecommuting” to “working from anywhere,” he said, and the new standard has important implications for culture and safety.
“We have the ability to go anywhere from a technical standpoint, and now it becomes a matter of policy,” Bailey said. “We are working with the union and we are working with the employees and management to see what this will look like.”
Cameron Chehreh, chief technology officer and vice president of pre-sales and engineering at Dell Technologies Federal, said that regardless of the nature of the workforce, it will lead to a “rethink of the work.” for the public sector.
“There is no longer a water cooler to gather around,” he said. “So how do I actually take teams of people who are used to working in an office and make them productive, in this anywhere working situation, and make sure we get the job done and the government’s mission and is continuity continuing to occur? “
Part of the answer is to take advantage of new technologies, such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and cloud computing, Chehreh said.
The other part of the answer, and perhaps the most important part, is culture – and making sure employees feel connected. It’s not always as easy as it sounds, but sometimes the solutions are right in front of us.
“We have found things as simple as [web] the camera was a really big solution, ”Bailey said. “We found out that there were people hired during the pandemic who did not turn on their cameras. And so they literally never met their boss visually, ”he said. “While we do not require the use of cameras, we do try to encourage their use.”
Rodgers acknowledged that tools like Microsoft Teams and VMware have enabled public sector agencies to reshape the workplace. “This is the future of the workplace, where you’re going to have people working from home, people who are in the office, and they might change schedules,” he said. “There are people who are reinventing the workplace, things will only get more culturally exciting.”
For Chehreh, the cultural shift seems deeper this time around.
“Never forget or underestimate the power of culture,” he said. “And you have to make sure that people keep connecting. If you don’t have that team environment then you don’t have people going through walls for you to get things done. But we can innovate safely. And there is a level of excellence in this country that I haven’t seen for a long time. And it was the pandemic that brought out the best of us. “
Learn more about “Enabling an Anywhere Workforce” and how VMware is helping accelerate innovation in the public sector.
-In this story-
Cameron Chehreh, Dell Technologies, Ervan Rodgers, Management Perspective, Gregg Bailey, IT Modernization, Sponsored Content, Ohio State, Telecommuting, US Census Bureau, VMware, VMware 2021, Workforce