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Learning the Dance: Workforce Planning for Long-Term Remote Work

As work and home lives tango, employees are tuning their schedules to the remote work rhythm that suits them best.

But that dance is a tricky one, unique for each employee. For some, work is even more regimented now – like a ballroom waltz with set motions signaling meetings, deep work and time away from the screen. For others, the moves are spontaneously asynchronous – busting out spasmodic spurts of energy to finish assignments before the kids wake up from their nap.

“We label it ‘government on demand,’” Kyle Edgeworth, Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the city of Corona, California, said during GovLoop’s Wednesday webinar about workforce planning and tech.

Edgeworth, responsible for strategic technology initiatives within the southern California city of 180,000, said he’s noticed high activity on internal networks from 4 a.m. until late at night as employees work nontraditional shifts from home during COVID-19.

The reason for the shift away from nine-to-five government is twofold. Chiefly, employees at home are choosing to contort their schedules to fit home lives, which can include taking care of parents or helping children at virtual school. But the trend is also a public sector prerogative.

Many governments are seizing the moment of remote work to extend job offers to those out of state. Whereas Corona used to primarily recruit in the city and its surrounding region, now it has employees working on the East Coast and everywhere in between. With remote workforces, governments have a broader selection of candidates who can fill longstanding skill vacancies – a chronic challenge in the public sector, especially for technical roles.

“We want to be able to tap into that workforce that we normally wouldn’t get to,” Edgeworth said.

COVID-19 has thrust government business continuity and disaster recovery into the limelight. Living and working in southern California, Edgeworth said wildfires have always threatened government operations in Corona. When he took over as Deputy CIO, he moved to migrate agency workflows and backups from an across-the-street data center to off-premises cloud providers.

That migration – part of the city’s larger digital transformation efforts – has been a key reason why Corona has continued operations and been able to work at all hours, from anywhere, during the pandemic.

Corona, enabled by the cloud, launched virtual desktops so that employees could keep their data on agency networks without having to download it onto individual devices. Their desktops also appear the same as they would in the office, mitigating common issues employees encounter in adjusting to new interfaces.

“That first step is just making sure they have a device to work on,” said webinar panelist Ken Liska, Senior Systems Engineer Manager for Citrix, an industry virtual desktops solutions provider.

At the outset of the pandemic, laptop production shortages effectively ruled many telework policies null and void, forcing employees to rotate in and out of the office to access devices and files. Virtual desktops, however, meant Corona employees could go home and access their files and applications with any device, even if they couldn’t get a hold of agency-issued technology.

Corona ran into its own challenges, however. Police and fire office employees saw telework delayed by three weeks as the city answered data privacy concerns having to do with the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Edgeworth warned that policy was one of the city’s top barriers to comprehensive telework.

“It wasn’t a rosy picture all the way through for us,” Edgeworth said, adding that the city was able to resolve CCPA issues.

Edgeworth emphasized what’s allowed Corona to successfully shift to remote work during COVID-19 is its groundwork with infrastructure and digital transformation. As much as business continuity and disaster recovery, cloud-based systems have let Corona maintain workforce continuity, which Liska described as “making sure your employees actually get to do the work that keeps your business running.”

With the virtual extension of office hours during the pandemic, Corona has even realized advantages because of remote work. Employees have relieved bottlenecks and responded to claims faster because of the flexibility in their schedules.

“For us, if we would’ve just focused on business continuity, we wouldn’t have been able to feel the benefits that we have,” Edgeworth said.

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