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Tackling Telework in State & Local Government

Endorsements of and efforts toward enabling telework aren’t new: Government agencies at all levels have increased their support for telework over the last 10 years. Still, some government operations, including financial and HR, have traditionally been designed for onsite work, requiring wet signatures on paper documents, for instance. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the shortcomings of that approach.

When agencies temporarily shuttered in response to the coronavirus, their business offices still had to ensure workers, contractors and vendors were paid, and that hiring processes continued even though that meant showing up to offices to review and forward papers. The GovLoop survey found that less than half of respondents have been fully remote since the pandemic struck.

A main reason for that was concern about what telework would mean for employees’ access to financial and HR systems. Will they have internet access? Will they be able to access agency systems remotely? Will they use personal or agency-issued devices? And how will they get the right people to sign off on all those paper documents?

“Governments can’t just shut down and wait it out,” said Ray Elwell, Market Advisory Program Manager at Workday, a provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and HR.

“If you look at what’s going on nationally with the economic conditions, we can’t just say, ‘Our payroll process has to be on-premise and we need six people to run it, so you’ll get paid eight or 10 weeks from now, when we’re able to get back to work.’ It’s just not possible,” Elwell said.

The key issue is preparation versus reaction. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they were unprepared or woefully unprepared for remote work this time around. As a result, IT managers reacted, unable to rely on disaster recovery and continuity of operations plans to guide them. Many of those plans are based on the idea of having to move from an office to an emergency operations center, not employees’ homes.

Solution: Untether Workers From the Office With Cloud Solutions

It’s clear that agencies need to adapt – and not only for the current pandemic but to be ready for whatever comes next. To do that, agencies need to replace legacy technologies with modern, cloud-based solutions that enable them to extend operations to wherever employees are.

Cloud can support remote workers today and in the future because it offers the flexibility and scalability that government agencies need to shift operations quickly. What’s more, it facilitates access and communication, eliminating the need for those ink signatures and digitizing paper-based processes so employees, for example, can switch from paper to digital time cards that supervisors can sign electronically and automatically pass to the payroll team to process.

This also lays a foundation to revamp COOPs.

“Traditionally, I think governments have looked at COOP as just a document that says, ‘If this event happens, here are the 12 things we need to do to be able to respond effectively,’” Elwell said. “But it’s actually more than that. It’s a bigger process. Reacting and planning really aren’t the same thing.”

Reacting is what IT managers did in March. Now, they are taking a step back to reassess the planning element with the benefit of recent lessons learned. The result will be COOPs that incorporate short- and long-term remote work capabilities based on cloud infrastructure that enable more agency functions – finance and HR, among them – to seamlessly move online for any disruption to normal operations, be it from a natural disaster or a second wave of COVID-19.

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