Feb 04 2021

How Will Remote Work Tools Help with Government Recruitment?

Teleworking technology gives state and local agencies flexibility to hire a more diverse and geographically dispersed workforce.

As state and local governments have shifted to remote work setups over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, they have used cloud-based collaboration tools and videoconferencing platforms for a variety of tasks. That includes everything from court proceedings to simple meetings within IT teams.

Such remote work tools can also aid state and local agencies with a vital task in the months and years ahead: recruitment and retention of workers, including IT professionals.

While it may be too soon to say how much of a material impact telework tools will have on government hiring and retention of workers, IT leaders and industry experts say that such technologies provide state and local agencies — and employees — with enhanced flexibility. For example, state agencies may be able to hire workers who do not live in or cannot easily commute to state capitals.

How the Government Workforce May Change in 2021 and Beyond

In January, the Center for State and Local Government Excellence laid out six workforce trends to watch for in 2021. One was the evolution of the post-COVID-19 workplace.

“The public sector will continue to work to address the impact of COVID-19 on employers and employees and identify a balance between remote work environments and more traditional approaches for a wider range of positions, while expanding the use of flexible work practices more generally,” SLGE says.

Gerald Young, the center’s senior research analyst, tells Federal News Network that the center has seen “significant change over to offsite or hybrid working arrangements where folks are telecommuting, and the technology has really assisted in that.”

Technology is creating an opportunity for government agencies, he says, in which “it’s possible for state and local government agencies to consider that it’s not necessarily a local employee who is necessary to fill each one of these positions.” That is giving agencies more flexibility in who they hire, he adds.

“It may be that they can collaborate with their neighboring organizations or with organizations farther away,” Young says. “It may be, if they’ve been challenged in the past on priorities like diversifying their workforce, that they can recruit diverse employees from all around the country.”

The trend toward hiring a more diverse and inclusive workforce has been “facilitated by the pandemic in that it is possible to recruit somebody even if they are not within easy commuting distance of your location,” Young says.

“If you, for instance, happened to be in a small, homogeneous community, you can be recruiting from major metropolitan areas, even hundreds of miles away,” he says. “You’re not requiring that that individual relocate to your community, certainly in the short term, and you have the ability to not only bring those people on but to help them to network with peers, who, again, might not necessarily already be a part of your organization.”

Alan Shark, executive director of CompTIA’s Public Technology Institute, writes in a blog post that a key trend he expects to unfold in 2021 for cities and counties is that the office is going to change forever. He notes that “many question the need to expand, build or maintain costly office space that may no longer be viable” given “the turn to more online services supported by workers from almost any location.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: How can IT leaders capitalize on a distributed workforce?

How State IT Leaders See Recruitment Changing

State IT leaders seem open to recruiting from nontraditional talent pools, given the freedom that remote work technology provides.

Last year, Missouri launched a plan to offer IT positions to remote workers who don’t live in or near Jefferson City, the state’s capital.

“In some cases, we found that efficiency was even better [with remote workers],” Missouri CIO Jeff Wann tells Government Technology.

Wann says the state is referring to such arrangements as “distributed teams” instead of remote work. “It places the emphasis on continued teamwork and how we’re going to work together as teams in a distributed manner,” he said. “We’re kind of excited about the new mantra that we’ve given it.”

Former Utah CIO Mike Hussey told StateScoop in December that his state was “all-in on teleworking and we’re going to continue teleworking well into the future, even after the pandemic is over.”

“We’re seeing a lot of benefits in our state with regard to air quality and congestion on the roads and our ability to recruit away from a physical workspace, so it opens some opportunities for rural parts of our state,” he said. “We also learned about some of the holes we have in digital government where you’re challenged on trying to provide those services online and not in line.”

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