Dec 14 2021

2022 Tech Trends: Agencies Aim to Make Hybrid Work a Success in Government

Next year federal agencies will likely drive to implement telework at scale for the long term.

The Biden administration has laid out its plan for government agencies to safely increase the number of federal employees working onsite while ensuring “maximum telework flexibilities” for staff eligible to work from home.

In other words, the government is doubling down on hybrid work.

That makes sense. Like those in the private industry, many federal workers have been more productive and efficient at home and enjoyed the improved work-life balance that comes with not having to commute.

In fact, according to a survey by the insurance company Breeze, 65 percent of employees with remote-capable jobs reported that they would take a 5 percent pay cut if they didn’t have to head back to the office.

It’s one thing to issue memorandums describing hybrid efforts; it’s another to implement this practice at scale. With 2022 just around the corner, what challenges are in store for government agencies looking to embrace hybrid work, and how do they make it work for them?

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What Are the Key Components of Hybrid Environments?

According to Heather Whitlock, head of industry strategy and business development at Adobe, five components are critical to crafting an effective hybrid work environment:

  • Executive sponsorship. To deliver on hybrid work goals, agencies need executive sponsorship that includes a clear vision and structure. Executives must also be willing to find and access government funding to accelerate digital transformation, as legacy tools are no longer enough to empower hybrid work requirements.
  • Evolving expectations. Government agencies need to attract and retain talent, and this means meeting staff expectations around technology. “They need tech to be productive,” says Whitlock. “When technology is working properly, this is no problem but if not, it can lead to disengagement.”
  • Ease of access. Empowering hybrid work also means driving internal efficiencies. With many agencies lacking the resources to meet job demands and ensure productivity, organizations must focus on finding and deploying solutions that make it easier for staff to work from any location.
  • Emerging compliance requirements. Existing requirements around the transmission and storage of personally identifiable information and emerging regulations around secure data access, e-signature use and the verification of digital documents require a thorough assessment of current policies and their ability to satisfy compliance expectations.
  • Digital equity. “Agencies need to deliver equitable experience and design across the board,” says Whitlock. “They need to meet people where they are.”

EXPLORE: Complimentary resources from CDW can help your agency meet its telework needs. 

Facing Challenges of the Next ‘New Normal’

While hybrid work offers the benefits of allowing staff to work where they’re most comfortable and productive, adoption at scale comes with challenges.

First is the need to assess current frameworks against changing needs. “Many agencies thought this transition would be temporary,” says Marlin McFate, CTO of public sector for Riverbed Technology.

“They found a lot of problems right off the bat with performance, capacity and complexity, and moving to working from home increased that complexity,” he says. “A lot of challenges come from the fact that we made lots of changes for the short term that weren’t effectively quantified and rationalized.”

Now that it’s clear hybrid work is here to stay, McFate says, agencies need to reassess what they’ve put in place, figure out where they need to make changes and determine how to bring hybrid work back into the larger fold of secure government operations.

Gretchen Brainard, offering portfolio leader for government and public services customer and marketing at Deloitte, says that the federal government now faces the additional challenge of a labor shortage as competition for skilled staff increases and private sector organizations offer permanent hybrid or remote work options.

“I don’t think the government challenge is all that different than a contractor challenge at this point, where we’re competing over the same set of workforce and recruiting the same set of people,” she says. “We need to find a new labor pool that we can then upskill and get into government positions.”

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Key Hybrid Strategies: Tackling Tech and Creating Culture

To help improve the efficacy of hybrid work environments, the right technology is critical.

For Whitlock, this starts with cloud-based services that deliver sustainable, high-quality experiences. Also critical are transitions to solutions that support the native digitization of documents and the acceptance of e-signatures to meet the requirements of new legislation such as the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act.

As noted by McFate, improved security solutions play a role in hybrid work transitions: From zero-trust frameworks to security operations centers and threat hunting teams, agencies need to ensure that hybrid flexibility doesn’t create new vulnerabilities.

Culture is also critical for hybrid success.

“Technology only accounts for 50 percent,” says McFate. “Tech is a big part of it, but mentality and methodology matter just as much.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Hear from IT leaders about hybrid work best practices. 

He suggests that agencies focus on creating a mentality that includes a foundational set of data. “If there’s a common set of data, we can move away from tools that silo people. This helps decomplexify the environment and allows users to get data from their own group and contextualizes their domain in the larger picture.”

Whitlock notes that experience also plays a critical role in culture. This includes the experiences of citizens, staff and leadership. By starting with an understanding of how agencies want to engage with citizens, government organizations can build hybrid work cultures that deliver these experiences across the board.

In effect, this is a recognition that outside their roles as government staff, employees are first and foremost citizens — citizens who have expectations around the way they want technology to enable everyday operations.

According to Brainard, personalization is essential for a successful hybrid future. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” she says. “Some people want to stay in their homes for the full work week, while others are begging us to open up all our offices because they’re suffering from a social perspective and a mental health perspective.”

For government agencies, embracing hybrid work in 2022 means understanding its key components, recognizing potential challenges, and implementing a combination of technology and cultural shifts to support new processes.

The good news for making it work? “Agencies have been delivering hybrid services for quite some time,” says Whitlock. “They have staff in the field and in the office — fighting forest fires, inspecting services and interacting with citizens. They’ve already been doing it. Now, it’s just on a different scale.”

RELATED: How is the Defense Department supporting long-term telework?

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

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