Oct 09 2020

State and Local IT Leaders on How Government Work Has Changed in the Pandemic

The shift to remote work has yielded benefits in collaboration, but IT leaders say attention must be paid to how agencies work together — and to users’ well-being.

The shift to telework and the use of videoconferencing to support meetings and collaboration for remote workers has been one the most significant moves in state and local government IT this year.

Government agencies and IT leaders had to rapidly support widescale use of VPN technology and ensure users could engage in remote work securely.

Now that state and local IT leaders have had about six months to adapt and think through remote work setups, some of them are sounding off on the lessons they learned. These officials — all of whom are among StateTech’s 30 State and Local Government IT Influencers Worth a Follow in 2020 — are offering leadership on how IT leaders should be thinking about remote work and how the work of government is getting done during the coronavirus pandemic.

While they think there are clear benefits to tools such as Microsoft Teams that enhance collaboration, they also argue that agencies need to ensure they are guarding against employee burnout.

Agencies Enhance Collaboration with Microsoft Teams

Arkansas CTO Yessica Jones recently praised the use of Teams on Twitter, noting that it enables her team members to share their thoughts.

“Our monthly manager’s meetings give everyone an insight from specific teams about their current work, challenges, and fun information such as their hobbies,” she tweeted.

Jones added, “I cannot wait until #microsoftteams new features are deployed in the government tenant #teamwork #CIO #virtualmeetings.”

Jones was referring to Microsoft’s recent announcements about upcoming enhancements to Teams. Those include, as BizTech reports, “more deeply integrated whiteboarding and new video meeting background possibilities. For example, users will be able to put the faces of everyone in the meeting around a conference room table, harkening back to the days when large groups would meet in person and helping cut down on video meeting fatigue.”

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

Change the Way IT Leaders Work with State Agencies

In addition to transforming how users collaborate, the pandemic has also put a spotlight on the need for clear communication between government IT leaders and the agencies within the state or city that they serve.

Washington, D.C., CTO Lindsey Parker recently tweeted her enthusiastic support for an approach being undertaken in neighboring Maryland by CIO Mike Leahy.

“This!” she tweeted, and then quoted an article from StateScoop. Leahy has implemented a new policy on IT requests from state agencies that he argues is leading to more effective tools at a lower cost and happier government partners.

Leahy has asked state agencies that need IT urgently to explain their requests in “plain English” before delivering the technology solutions, StateScoop reports. While that can sometimes be challenging, it has helped build trust between IT and agencies and led to better results.

“I know we all grew up learning the lesson that we shouldn’t bring people a problem unless we have a solution, but I want to break that down,” Leahy says, according to StateScoop. “So, bring me a problem, in English, explain to me what it is you’re hoping to accomplish, in English, what work forms are involved, what data you need, what data you have and then we will help you.”

Parker ended her tweet with the hashtag #cocreatevalue, endorsing Leahy’s approach.

READ MORE: Find out how state governments have addressed legacy IT in a time of crisis.

Don’t Forget About Employees’ Well-Being

While government agencies have embraced remote work and the technology needed to support it with gusto, it has both positive effects and drawbacks. During the recent Microsoft Ignite conference, Microsoft revealed that its research found “62 percent of workers now feel more empathy toward their colleagues because they can see into their personal lives through video calls, and many feel positive about the flexibility that comes with remote work,” BizTech reports.

However, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said at the conference that the largest “increase in the use of Microsoft Teams has come outside of standard 9-to-5 workday hours, adding that the average workday in the U.S. is now 25 percent longer,” according to BizTech.

“One-third of remote workers say the lack of separation between work and life is negatively impacting their well-being,” Spataro said. “And more than 30 percent of information workers and frontline workers say the pandemic has somewhat or significantly increased their sense of burnout.”

With that in mind, Jonathan Feldman, CIO of Asheville, N.C., recently tweeted that organizations with large teams should consider that “Chat/slack messaging is killing your individual contributors with interruptions since you have made it possible for 1000 people to get in touch simultaneously with ONE person AND there is an expectation to respond to instant messaging… instantly.”

In a reply, he urged organizations to “set some expectations” on what a reasonable response time is for responding to a message on a tool such as Microsoft Teams or Slack.

Feldman also heartily endorsed the need for self-care. Burnout can negatively impact employees’ productivity. “Up to this point, technology has been focused on efficiency, and I think that’s a fallacy,” Spataro said at the conference. “Sustainable productivity for people isn’t just about efficiency. People need cycles of performance, and they need cycles of recovery.”

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