Oct 26 2020

What Will Remote Government Work Look Like Over the Long Term?

As agencies prepare to enter 2021 with workforces either remote or in a hybrid setup, they need to start planning how to maintain a new normal.

In the U.S., it has now been more than seven months since state governments first locked down to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. State and local governments responded by rapidly setting up secure telework arrangements for government workers so that citizen services could continue uninterrupted.

However, as the autumn progresses and 2021 comes into view, government IT leaders need to start thinking about what kind of work setups they want for the long term — and how to properly support such an arrangement, especially from an IT resource perspective.

Some agencies are going to remain entirely remote. Others are going to shift to a hybrid model, in which users work from home a few days per week and come into the office otherwise. IT leaders need to consider how those arrangements will play out practically, because users are demanding more flexibility now that they’ve been in telework mode for so long.

“Ninety-eight percent said they love remote work or are fine with it,” Washington State CIO Jim Weaver said during a virtual conference in late September, StateScoop reports. “Two percent said they hate it — those are the extroverts — and 75 percent said they wish this would be a permanent thing for them.”

Preparing IT Resources for a Changed Way of Working

Government IT leaders said that the pandemic has proven remote work setups are possible in government and the cloud computing and collaboration tools they have been investing in over the past few years have proved their worth.

“The cloud constructs that allow us to burst up capacity, they gave us a platform that still allowed us to connect,” Minnesota CIO Tarek Tomes told StateTech this month during the virtual 2020 NASCIO annual conference. “The number of really meaningful meetings that we have where video is a critical and essential component of having some of these really intense conversations has really demonstrated that from a communication and collaboration perspective, that construct really works.”

Given that, IT leaders need to ensure they can continue to effectively support cloud-based collaboration and videoconferencing software. That may mean scaling up cloud computing resources, ensuring enough bandwidth via network connections and making sure that users are trained on all of the tools available to them so they can reach their full potential.

Utah CIO Mike Hussey told StateTech during the NASCIO conference that his state is doing more with Desktop as a Service in the cloud, “so that we can position this such that down the road it doesn’t matter where you land, you’ll have a fully functional desktop available to you in the cloud. So, we’re being a little more innovative with what we buy.”

In Michigan, Tiziana Galeazzi, the general manager of IT for the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget, recently noted telework has made IT employees more productive and engaged and that they have a better work-life balance without having to commute, Government Technology reports. Moving forward, she recommends that IT departments standardize and consolidate their solutions to reduce complexity and costs.

That is wise advice. IT leaders should settle on core solutions for collaboration and computing and make sure those are properly explained to users and maintained. There are other issues that need to be dealt with as well, including ensuring all users have access to adequate internet speeds at home and helping users juggle the complex demands of home life, including caring for parents and for children who are attending school virtually.

“How do we ensure our workforce is able to be successful but get away from the mindset of an eight to five workday?” Weaver said. It’s a complex set of challenges, but they are not insurmountable with support from fellow IT leaders and trusted partners.

Rethinking Security in a Remote Work World

Another challenge that cannot be overlooked is maintaining the cybersecurity of a remote or hybrid workforce. Users working from home may get lulled into a sense of complacency. That can open up the door for malicious actors to attack, especially via phishing campaigns.

That’s why state and local agencies should regularly conduct anti-phishing drills and campaigns with their users to train them not to click on suspicious links.

Agencies should engage in aggressive patch management and ensure that users are actually applying software patches on their endpoints. “There needs to be a set of checks and verifications to make sure that the machines are not just eligible for these updates but that they are actually being done,” Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute, tells StateTech.

Another avenue agencies should consider is deploying next-generation endpoint protection solutions. While they are certainly an investment, they will pay off in the long term by preventing a breach.

There are a host of concerns IT leaders need to think through as they plan for a new normal. But the more they can get out ahead of the challenges, the easier the transition to a new way of working will be for the long term.

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

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