The concept of work and the office has forever changed and so too has the role of information technology (IT). Empirical research demonstrates that those in government—especially those in IT—miss the human socialization that the workforce always provided. As many IT directors tried, Teams, WebEx, and Zoom became worthy substitutes—but had their drawbacks and limitations.
After a stressful and unpredictable year or so, local government is now assessing the impact of the pandemic on its workers and citizens. A few but certain predictions can be made.
- Hybrid is here to stay. While it appears many more workers used to working from home have come to enjoy the freedoms it brings, it must be recognized many also long for the office and the clearer separation of work and home. A hybrid approach, working at an office two to three days per week and the rest of the week from home, appears to be gaining attention
- Open office concept is dead. The once favored “open concept” office has quickly fallen out of favor with the fear of germ spread and too many distractions.
- Virtual has its limits. It is not uncommon to hear people say they were “Zoomed out,” referring to endless and often longer than needed virtual meetings. The experience has left many folks frustrated in regard to getting things done.
- Focus on collaboration and shared space. According to expert space planners, offices are being reconfigured to be more conducive to collaboration, meetings and planning sessions, with traditional office space used for individuals who come to work on a scheduled or space-available basis.
- Broadband is an essential utility. The lack of affordable and available broadband exposed a more public digital gap among certain portions of the population. Many have concluded that in today’s environment, broadband has become an essential means of communication with citizens and as importantly a critical means of conducting government business
- Digital services expand. The slow ramp-up of digital services to citizens went into high gear during the pandemic. Digital services have proven not only to be a huge convenience—they save a ton of money in the long run too.
- Remote work force support improved. The IT department had to learn how to solve problems with applications, connectivity, and security, all performed remotely.
- IT promotes professional skills as importantly as technical skills. IT staff has to focus on professional (soft) skills as never before, including customer service, emotional intelligence, and communication—both written and oral. Ongoing training needs to address these new requirements.
- The workday is remeasured by hours worked, not-9 to-5; more flexibility in when and how one works. There needs to be a recognition that work should be measured by productivity and not simply traditional office hours.
- Repetitive process automation (RPA), robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) gain traction. RPA has gained a foothold in government using chatbots for example as a means of augmenting the customer-facing workforce. RPA holds the promise of eliminating jobs that require repetitive motion that can be easily performed by a combination of robotics, machine learning and AI. Early success in the use of chatbots strongly suggests they are here to stay and will grow in importance to the government enterprise.
- Goodbye desktop computers. Given the need for greater mobility as well as flexibility, the desktop is being decommissioned when possible, in favor of mobile-only devices.
- Work life balance is re-imagined. There is a growing recognition that public employees must be given time and options that allow them greater flexibility in workload expectations and the timeframe when work is expected to be completed. Work-life balance becomes an operational goal.
- Managers re-evaluate how true productivity is measured. With a pivot towards greater workday flexibility, new ways need to be found that can better measure performance and productivity.
- The stigma of telework is forever changed for the better. The pandemic proved beyond a doubt the viability of telework at all levels of government.
- Recognition that continuous learning, professional certifications are a must. While much was learned during the pandemic, the need for continuous self-improvement became forever evident. Professional certifications and specialized short courses will be the new norm.
Summarized from American City & County