Jun 13 2022

States Experiment with Hybrid or Remote Models for Employees

State and local government agencies are responding to remote work differently, and it is having a surprising effect.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, social distancing quickly became necessary, and anyone who could work remotely did. Both the private and public sectors discovered the need for remote work infrastructure — edge computing, private and public clouds for data storage, extended broadband to support network connectivity, and a host of collaboration platforms.

Now, as both sectors reopen, many government employees are being asked to return to offices. However, not all agencies think alike. In fact, a recent Springbrook Software survey shows that more than half of the agencies surveyed have roughly 25 percent of their staff still working remotely. Remote work policies also vary greatly between states.

Connecticut recently agreed to permanently allow most of its employees to telecommute up to four days a week. The state recently launched a pilot project to see if certain IT employees could work from home every day of the week. State CIO Mark Raymond tells StateScoop his agency is in the middle of a six-month test period with certain IT staff members working 100 percent remotely. “We are working on designing intentional, in-office interactions where needed,” Raymond says.

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In Maine, remote and hybrid work will continue to be an option for some state employees while the state transitions away from protective measures enacted during the pandemic.

Finally, in New Jersey, the state’s Civil Service Commission voted to approve a one-year pilot program empowering state departments and authorities to establish a telework program for employees. This vote is paving the way for modernization efforts across New Jersey’s workplaces. The question these states and agencies must contend with is how prolonged remote and hybrid work might impact physical and technological infrastructure.

The Unforeseen Consequences of Remote Work

While remote work may be the preference among workforces, the ripple effect of this approach is felt beyond the office space. For example, in Connecticut, small businesses and restaurants continue to feel the effects of remote and hybrid work, as office workers accounted for the bulk of customers at Hartford’s downtown spaces.

In February, Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Darrell Steinberg said businesses in the downtown core have suffered as state employees have worked from home.

EXPLORE: How the right technology can provide work flexibility.

Yet as small businesses and restaurants navigate losing a portion of their customers to prolonged telework, other states see fewer commuters as a benefit. In North Dakota, with many employees continuing to work remotely, office space has become widely available. Historically, North Dakota has paid more than $10 million in rent for agencies statewide. However, with agencies needing less office space, the state is saving money and rethinking how to use those spaces. State officials are considering sharing these spaces across agencies to create something of a collaboration center.

What Technological Challenges Could Ongoing Remote Work Pose?

As the push for remote work extends, state and local governments must continue to prioritize IT infrastructure. At the start of the pandemic, the shift to the cloud exposed security concerns, causing leaders to re-evaluate the number of resources they were allocating to keep their environments safe and prevent breaches.

Not only will states need to continue prioritizing security for remote employees, they will also need to keep employees connected. Aside from collaborative platforms, this requires broadband expansion, upgraded network infrastructure and investments in wireless technology.

LEARN MORE: How pandemic lessons are supporting continued remote work efforts.

For example, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will administer $45 billion to extend broadband and provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet across the United States and territories over the next decade. Nearly two-thirds of states and territories have already indicated their intention to secure a portion of the funds.

With technology modernization on the rise and several states continuing remote and hybrid work, state and local governments must navigate this changing landscape attentively. As North Dakota CIO Shawn Riley noted, a simple “Microsoft Teams outage can cause someone to be completely ineffective.” Safeguarding against the daily challenges of remote and hybrid work will be an absolute necessity for agencies to maintain efficiency.

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