During the annual conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers on Monday, panelists discussed lessons learned by state governments from teleworking during the pandemic and how those experiences busted common myths about working from home.
In a virtual session, Meghan Steele, Senior Director of State and Local Government for NetApp, quizzed Amanda Crawford, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Information Resources, about her state's experiences since the pivot to working from home began in March. In each of four cases, Crawford declared the myth did not hold up to reality.
First, Steele pondered if telework was only suited for a young workforce without any leadership responsibilities.
Crawford refuted this myth, saying that telework is not as challenging as many outsiders might think and that senior leaders also were capable of telework.
"Lots of folks who thought they would never enjoy telework have just jumped right in and used the technologies," Crawford said.
Management responsibilities, including disciplinary actions and monitoring performance metrics, were among the biggest telework challenges, she added. But "being thrust into it and having to do it, we worked to adapt quickly."
With new hires, for example, the Texas DIR set up a drive-through onboarding process near its headquarters. New employees drive through a breezeway to acquire a laptop and paperwork, then go home to log in and begin orientation.
"That is a flexible way we adapted to making an agency work," Crawford said.
Teleworking Does Not Guarantee a Good Work-Life Balance
Steele presented a second myth: the concept that teleworking provides a better work-life balance. Crawford said that was not necessarily true, as teleworkers often schedule back-to-back meetings throughout the day, without a natural break. In addition, most agency employees aren't taking vacation as they did last year due to the pandemic.
"Now, you can take advantage of your calendar, and it's just back-to-back-to-back meetings. That presents a real challenge," Crawford said. A day full of meetings leads to burnout and not enough time to finish deliverables.
"To have an internal meeting, you have to have the agreement of everyone on the call. We have had a lot of success with that," Crawford said.
Teleworking is thought by many to require complex technology, Steele said in describing a third work-from-home myth.
Texas DIR's biggest demands have been for simple technologies, such as laptops, headsets and hotspots, Crawford said. More complex deployments continue behind the scenes as states work on digital transformation, which has been accelerated in the pandemic. Putting resources in the cloud, for example, makes them accessible to a wide range of common devices that employees can use at home.
"This is the perfect example that we as IT leaders, throughout all the states, have been preaching to our customers. It's about the benefits and the scalability," Crawford said of cloud adoption.
She continued, "Our legislature last session passed two different bills to at least consider cloud technology when developing a new application." Doing so helps resolve challenges, such as increased demands on public websites while citizens remain at home or avoid government offices.
Digital Transformation Paves the Way to Work from Home
Finally, Steele wondered whether an organization could build a team culture in a telework environment.
"You have to be deliberate at all times to think this one through. It's a little bit tougher when we're not seeing each other, but you can do it," Crawford said.
In a lot of ways, employees get to know each other better, even though they are not together. Using videoconferencing technologies such as Zoom, coworkers can see each other’s homes and perhaps meet their coworkers' children or pets.
To promote a team culture, the Texas DIR has held virtual events such as Bring Your Child to Work Day or themed presentations.
"In a lot of ways, even though we are not together, we know each other better as work colleagues," Crawford said.
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