May 06 2020

NASCIO Midyear 2020: What the Path Forward Looks Like

The most important topic state CIOs can discuss is how to return to work.

Just as the NASCIO Midyear 2020 Conference adapted as a webcast series, states have addressed the challenges of remote work, and what life and work will look like after the coronavirus pandemic. 

State CIOs and the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation came together via webcast to discuss these topics and their current paths forward. 

“The perception from a state standpoint is that we can’t work remotely, but we can,” said Ohio CIO Ervan Rodgers.

But states won’t be working remotely forever. Rodgers called the inevitable “the big return.” 

“Lots of things will become new norms,” Rodgers said. He mentioned collaborative discussions between states, intentional communication with employees and increased equipment cleanliness once offices reopen.

“We’ll probably never return to whatever normal was,” agreed Georgia CIO Calvin Rhodes. “State staff can do a great job of working remotely, which will shape the model of the future.”

Rhodes also brought up when to welcome individuals back to work and how to manage individuals who continue to work remotely. Organizations must now be able to address individual needs as well as statewide ones. 

Is It Possible to Do Social Distancing in an Office?

Whether from an office or a statehouse, officials must lead by example, attendees agreed. The tone for an office — whether it involves social distancing or wearing a mask — is set “at the top of the house,” according to Rodgers.

He referred to the daily press briefings given by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who always enters and exits the room wearing a mask. Rodgers said leaders need to don the mask, encourage remote work and do what they can to get the economy working — which doesn’t mean a stampede back to the office. 

Being smart and careful is the unifying thought behind returning to an office space. “We’ll shape our organizations by being good communicators,” Rhodes said. People are feeling uncomfortable, but we’re on the same team. He also mentioned possible procedures to be mindful of people’s health, like assigning bathrooms and breakrooms.

“We can be effective and do things differently,” he said, emphasizing the need for conversations around any new policies to promote a healthy working environment. 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover how state and local agencies can take government meetings online. 

Tech Enables Continuation of Remote Work

For some states, remote work is the first step in embracing new technology and a digital future. For other organizations, remote work is an incentive or practice that’s been in use for years.

Rob Atkinson, president of ITIF, already has a number of employees who work remotely. A few years ago, his foundation moved everything to the cloud. After that turning point, people worked effectively at home, and also spread out geographically. 

“There’s a lot more to the idea we can work at home than we thought,” Atkinson said. 

With cloud and services, such as Microsoft Office 365, teams can be just as productive remotely, and Rodgers said remote work is now “here to stay,” if it wasn’t already. 

For virtual workers, or people who no longer need to be physically present in an office, Rhodes said “the door is opened a lot wider for us to go after talent.” Whether urban or rural, location no longer hinders the search for new team members.

READ MORE: Find out how state CIOs think their operations will evolve. 

States Focus on Promoting Digital Services

The CIOs felt confident about providing digital services to citizens, wherever they are. Rodgers employs a dedicated cloud architect who is working in partnership with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted to digitize services. Through collaboration, Rodgers said, his office is “more than capable of providing those technology services to our citizens.”

Lasting change will come from policy changes and from turning data into information, Rhodes said, adding that people have respect for the power of information that affects life-and-death decisions. The Georgia Department of Labor has never been busier, with phones ringing off the hook, and has embraced chatbots to serve the influx. To date, chatbots have answered 1 million questions for Georgia citizens. 

Atkinson said this a “wake up call for state governments to be thinking mobile-first, or at least mobile-equal.” A third of state unemployment websites aren’t mobile friendly, and states need to embrace mobile use, AI as a solution and design systems to handle overnight load increases and keep up with exorbitant demand.

IT Leaders Need to Change Users’ Mindset

The CIOs ended their discussion on the subject of mentorship. Remotely or at the office, there will always be new additions to the workforce. 

Rodgers encouraged people to be intentional and authentic when engaging with the workforce, and to take this time to change both the workspace and users’ mindset.

Check out this page for more coverage from the NASCIO Midyear 2020 conference, and follow us on Twitter at @StateTech, or the official conference Twitter account, @NASCIO,  and join the conversation using the hashtag #NASCIO20.

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