How COVID-19 Taught the U.S. Government to Rethink Telework
Before March 2020, the United States government did not widely embrace telework. Now, seven months after the COVID-19 outbreak thrust millions of quarantined people into a remote work world, government decision makers realize that working from home is far more beneficial than they anticipated. The discovered benefits are encouraging civilian and defense agencies to explore ways to expand remote work capabilities long after the pandemic subsides.
When the necessity of telework became evident, government agencies stepped up efforts to logistically support a massive remote workforce. They accelerated contracts, upgraded solutions, made remote meeting and collaboration software available to remote workers, and implemented practices in accordance with the Federal Data Strategy.
As government agencies quickly transitioned to a remote work lifestyle, one concept focused into clarity: the swift adaptations caused by the COVID-19 crisis provides “proof points for what the future looks like,” Suzette Kent, the former Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO), said in May. And one of the first insights Kent gleaned is how the meanings of resilience and responsiveness have evolved.
Before the pandemic, agencies primarily associated resilience with continuity of operations and services in the wake of a disruptive event. Today, agencies realize that resilience goes beyond disaster recovery and business continuity. In this new digital environment, resilience means that employees have access to the tools and resources they need to do their jobs no matter where and when they are working.
To learn more about resilience now and the post-COVID world, GovLoop recently interviewed executives from Avaya Government Solutions about how unified communications (UC) and collaboration tools are essential in helping reshape the government workspace of the future. Their insights are included in a new eBook, The New Government Workplace Takes Shape.
Here are a few of the highlights GovLoop and Avaya discuss:
Provide a Seamless Remote Work Environment
For agencies that adopted collaboration tools to support telework prior to COVID-19, the transition was relatively smooth. But others who were not quite prepared for the pandemic were overwhelmed, including some call centers. The severity of this issue was starkest for agencies that handle unemployment benefits, with some agencies answering 22,000 calls a week and callers being placed in the phone queue for hours
But as agencies provided employees with the right tools to create a seamless work environment, they discovered another hiccup: the new software was different from what employees used in the office. These new tools prolonged the users’ learning curve, impacting productivity.
This is exactly why Avaya designed its Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) tools to deliver the same functionality and the same user experience no matter which device employees are using. Similarly, it’s the same principle behind car design. No matter what car you rent, the gas pedal is always on the right. Consistency shortens the learning curve and creates a more seamless and efficient work environment.
The New Normal: How to Improve the Telework Experience
In the webinar, Empower Your Remote Workers To Effectively & Securely Do Their Jobs, Robin Gareiss, President of Nemertes Research states that remote work is here to stay. However, in a survey of 528 firms in 12 countries across 38 vertical industries, respondents said the biggest challenge for companies who embrace work-from-home is managing remote employees.
The idea of a seamless work environment is not a temporary fix to the challenge of remote work. Once agencies begin taking full advantage of UCaaS capabilities, they will most likely not want to go back to the so-called “normal” way of doing business.
Gareiss shared that the pandemic is accelerating application development, which is key for remote workers. These new collaboration apps can enable seamless training and distance learning, video conferencing, telehealth and telemedicine, customer diagnostics and support, remote insurance claims and integration of IoT devices, providing a much better experience for government customer support representatives and citizens.
The New Government Workplace Takes Shape eBook cites four benefits that UCaaS tools can bring to organizations or teams:
- Improved engagement - Employees are more engaged on video versus voice calls.
- Expanded collaboration - A virtual environment makes it easier to incorporate a more diverse mix of talent.
- More input from key stakeholders - Senior leaders or subject matter experts, who are often pressed for time, might find it easier to hop on a 15-minute video conference than blocking out time for an in-person meeting.
- Mitigation of communication stovepipes - Managers and teams across departments can collaborate more efficiently and effectively.
Such benefits could pay off in the long term, as the pandemic reshapes the workforce. Although workers will be returning to the office, many CIOs expect the percentage of remote workers to never return to pre-COVID levels. Most observers predict that agencies will embrace a hybrid approach, expanding telework programs and the systems that support flexible work, even as some workers return to offices.
The goal should be to equip every worker with the tools needed to advance the mission of an agency, anytime, anywhere, and from any device. As the eBook states, “For this to happen, agencies will need to find the right mix of cloud capacity, robust communication and collaboration tools, cybersecurity, and cultural shifts, including new ways of managing mobile workers.” To further support this statement, Nemertes Research survey results revealed that working from home will accelerate a shift to the cloud, with 77.8 percent of respondents stating they are more likely to use cloud services to enable remote work in the future.
As government offices reopen, Avaya is uniquely positioned to provide your agency with the communication and collaboration tools required to seamlessly connect workers, whether they are in the office, working from home, or mobile.