Apr 03 2020

How to Manage Telework as More Users Shift to Remote Work

State and local governments need to ensure their telework capabilities are robust and secure as users work remotely.

As state governments adapt to tens of thousands of workers accessing services and performing their jobs remotely, IT leaders are embracing massive shifts to telework, not by choice but by necessity. 

In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, state CIOs are primarily focused on keeping the lights on, making sure critical IT and cybersecurity functions are maintained and that citizen services can continue to be accessed. 

“Pandemics are unique in that they primarily affect an organization’s workforce as opposed to its physical infrastructure, and therefore require a radically different approach for recovery efforts,” notes a guide recently produced by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. “Planning in response to a pandemic event should include an incident management component involving an incident command response and identifying those key members and players necessary for a comprehensive solution to the plans that are developed.” 

As brokers of services rather than merely providers of services, NASCIO notes, state CIOs “must understand the impact to the logistics of contractors and suppliers outside of the state IT organization who may also be experiencing a high rate of employee absenteeism, and potentially greater demand for their services. CIOs must determine how to communicate a lapse in service to agencies when it is out of their control.”

To do all of that that, though, CIOs, their staff and other critical IT workers around the state need to keep doing their jobs. Having a robust telework program that enables users to work remotely, securely and productively will be key for state governments for the foreseeable future as public health officials combat the pandemic. 

How to Effectively Run Large-Scale Telework Operations

The tactical use of telework for critical personnel may help state governments “resolve many on-site accessibility problems and is the major topic of discussion today regarding the impact of COVID-19,” the NASCIO guide notes. 

State-issued laptops, tablets, smartphones and applications can enable workers to remain connected if they are working from home or in other remote locations. CIOs need to ensure that these devices are working properly and are secured, likely via mobile device management platforms. 

“Exploit modern technology infrastructure and alternative communications methods,” NASCIO advises. “Anticipate the need to expand the use of remote access tools, collaboration and enterprise instant messaging platforms, including web video conferencing. This will require adjustment to end user concurrent licenses, including virtual private network (VPN) access.” 

To meet the demand, the use of BYOD by state employees may be required, according to NASCIO. “If this is not already permitted via state policy, ensure all security controls are configured before allowing this practice,” the guide adds. 

Cloud-based Voice over IP will also enable state workers to remain in communication to each other while working from home. However, IT leaders will need to make sure all users can effectively take advantage of such services. 

“CIOs will need to determine the features and differences between the current tiers of services and an expanded end user base,” NASCIO advises. “These systems have a host of advanced features and capabilities that are probably unknown to most of the state government workforce. State workers have little experience working remotely with advanced configurations and call forwarding to smart phones. Pre-configuration, guidance and end user training will be required.”

State and local governments have been busy ramping up hardware and software purchases, as well as network and VPN capacity in anticipation of continued telework. 

Another element of telework that state CIOs need to keep in mind is that, with more users working remotely, perhaps with systems and equipment they are unfamiliar with, there are likely going to be more tickets sent to IT help desks. 

“With more IT and other state employees using remote technologies for the first time, there will be a higher need for helpdesk support,” NASCIO notes. “Staff augmentation through contractor services may be required. Consider implementing cloud-based helpdesk services, chat services and bots as appropriate. CIOs may need to expand current off-premise provider services and scale up quickly to meet demand.”

READ MORE: State and local governments should be on guard for more phishing attacks. 

Plan for Enhanced Cybersecurity Risks

In all of this, cybersecurity should not be forgotten. Indeed, the flood of information in the news media and from government officials about the response to the pandemic is opening up opportunities for malicious actors to target public sector agencies with phishing and ransomware attacks.

NASCIO advises IT leaders to ensure VPNs and remote access systems are fully patched, enable or expand multifactor authentication and enhance system monitoring to receive early detection and alerts. 

“Before sending workers home with laptops, make sure they have properly configured firewalls as well as intrusion prevention and anti-malware software installed,” NASCIO notes. 

IT leaders also need to “prepare for problems arising from absent cybersecurity staff due to illness,” according to the NASCIO guide. “CIOs should also consider the risk of a cybersecurity incident due to absenteeism on the part of a cybersecurity contractor or managed services provider. Discuss these challenges with your suppliers and contractors and stay up to date on their status.”

The coronavirus pandemic is going to challenge state and local governments. However, through proactive effort, collaboration and technology, the public sector can continue to effectively serve the common good during the crisis.

This article is part of StateTech's CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.

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