Aug 14 2020

Federal IT Leaders Highlight How Telework Is Changing Government

The shift to remote work is likely to leave a lasting impact on how federal agencies operate, with some technology tools becoming more widely adopted.

The federal government undertook a major shift to telework this spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Agency IT leaders worked hard to support widespread work-from-home programs, and leaders were largely unsure what impact the move would have on productivity and communication.

What CIOs and other federal IT thought leaders have found is that agencies have been able to support large-scale telework deployments with relative ease, and that the cloud-based collaboration tools they had invested in over recent years have proved their worth.

Recently, federal IT thought leaders — all of whom are among FedTech’s 30 Federal IT Influencers Worth a Follow in 2020 — have sounded off on Twitter about how agencies have responded — and, in some cases, what is likely going to happen next.

How Federal IT Is Evolving to Support Remote Work

One of the agencies that has shifted its approach to IT in response to the pandemic is the State Department. The agency’s CIO, Stuart McGuigan, recently highlighted an interview on Twitter about the State Department’s approach to adapting to a remote work environment.

He noted that the agency’s “agile processes positioned us to be a resilient and collaborative organization amid the pandemic.”

In the interview, with Government Matters, McGuigan noted that the State Department is an agency that has a culture of face-to-face interactions. The agency went from telework being the exception to having more than 90 percent of its workforce using telework tools at the peak of remote work.

The State Department needed to reframe its approach to security, McGuigan said, giving access to the right information with the “right kind of information sensitivity wherever you are, including things like the ability to do massive videoconferencing.”

“It really helped us sharpen our security policy and standard operating procedures because we had to really look at things from the basics again,” he added.

The State Department in 2019 made a shift to Office 365 and also rigorously enforced multifactor authentication for remote access. That helped position the department to shift to massive telework when the pandemic hit. “We didn’t know this was coming, of course, but timing is everything,” he said. “So, we found ourselves in a pretty good position to be able to support the department’s needs at this time.”

Through the shift to telework, the State Department discovered it is an agile organization, McGuigan said. “Because of the crisis and the need to get people back to work, we didn’t spend a lot of time debating what agile was … and how we’re going to implement it,” he said. “What we did is we quickly developed a backlog of all of the things we needed to fix or change to enable people to get access to all of the systems they needed to do their work from home. And then we reprioritized that backlog virtually every day, delivered new capabilities every day.”

Toni Townes-Whitley, president of U.S. regulated industries at Microsoft, highlighted on Twitter a Microsoft post on Federal News Network about how agencies such as NASA are using Microsoft Teams to support massive remote videoconferences.

She notes that Teams “is enabling agencies to host not only townhall meetings, but broadcast live events.” Teams offers agencies interactivity at a level that would be impossible in a live venue, the post notes.

“Presenters and participants within an organization can share files, use a digital whiteboard, and access meeting notes,” the post says. “Chat makes Q&A sessions easy for organizers and presenters. And the whole thing can be recorded for later reference or distribution. And most of these features are available before, during and after the meeting.”

The Future of Government Work in the Pandemic

IT thought leaders are also focusing on what comes next for government. William Eggers, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights, notes on Twitter that “governments emerging from COVID-19 will need to both manage existing operations and explore ways to improve future responses.”

Eggers highlights a new Deloitte report on the topic, which covers the need for governments to have foresight, agility and resilience.

“The pandemic has prompted considerable discussion on making processes more robust for future pandemics,” the report notes. “But government agencies also must be able to withstand as well as bounce back from shifting customer needs, technological innovation, economic and social upheaval, natural disasters, the actions of foreign powers, and more. If a crisis moves the organization to embrace telework, it shouldn’t then become more vulnerable to a cyberattack; resiliency must remain robust in the face of all kinds of challenges, as well as in the face of growth in the scale and scope of the challenges faced.”

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