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Remote Work and Learning from COVID-19

Necessity is the mother of innovation, and 2020 has forced Americans to innovate like few other times. In a world where COVID-19 can spread anywhere, social distancing is key. Consequently, most of the public and private sectors are now working remotely to help fight the virus.

What has the U.S. learned after months of experimenting with remote work? On Thursday, during GovLoop’s latest virtual summit, business and government thought leaders each shared surprising answers.

First, Deputy Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Rob Beutel described how long-term remote work has taken the Air Force to new heights. Rather than clip its wings, the COVID-19 crisis has taught the Air Force’s workforce they can operate effectively and remotely.

Second, Steve Septoff, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, Federal at Dell, said his company has also learned valuable lessons from the coronavirus. Dell and Carahsoft, an IT hardware, software and consulting services provider, sponsored Thursday’s virtual summit.

Here are four valuable insights about remote work Beutel and Septoff say can help the public and private sectors in the years ahead:

1. Technology Troubles Don’t Need to Last

According to Beutel, the Air Force’s shift to remote work initially seemed intimidating. After all, scores of Air Force personnel didn’t have government laptops or mobile devices.

“To me, if that’s your biggest issue, it is something that can be solved if you have the resources,” he said of technology. “If you have cultural issues, that can be a lot harder to get to.”

2. Cultivate a New Culture

In some ways, Beutel said, the Air Force’s traditions were bigger barriers to remote work than technology was. For example, many Air Force leaders preferred physical interactions to remote ones pre-COVID-19.

“It’s hard for our leadership to embrace the new paradigms,” he said. “They still like to be able to reach out to the people.”

To overcome some of its cultural challenges, Beutel said the Air Force began addressing problems with new tools. Take technology demos, which were formerly limited to where Air Force personnel could travel during short timeframes. Now, Air Force employees can quickly see presentations over large distances using video conferences.

“Even the people who were most abrasive to it are starting to embrace it,” he said of remote work.

3. Don’t Make Everything Remote

As a military organization, the Air Force handles sensitive data that may have national security implications. Subsequently, letting remote workers handle classified information couldn’t happen.

“The classified side has to be done in the office,” Beutel said. “Those folks have to handle their workloads on site.”

According to Beutel, realizing distinctions such as these helped the Air Force work traditionally when it made sense, and remotely when it didn’t.

4. Respect the New Normal

According to Septoff, the public and private sectors can learn from Dell about improving the remote work experience.

Take video conferences, which Septoff suggests can be stressful for employees who aren’t used to frequently appearing on camera.

“We have been focused on making sure we stay in touch with people,” he added, noting video conferences can keep coworkers connected over large distances.

While it remains unclear how entrenched remote work will become nationwide, results such as Dell’s or the Air Force’s hint it might become a long-term part of the future.

Don’t miss out on other virtual learning opportunities. Pre-register for GovLoop’s remaining 2020 virtual summits today.

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