How Agencies Can Sustain Telework After the COVID Pandemic

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Agencies are now financially able to boost their IT capacity and acquire equipment to operate in the work from home landscape.

Just under two months ago, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic and since then Americans have found themselves confronted with the “new normal.” Google search trends show that our interest in understanding what this new normal means has nearly doubled since the outbreak. 

As the nation began to navigate this unprecedented landscape, federal agencies were suddenly forced to rapidly adopt telework as part of their daily operations. The resulting surge in the number of remote workers accessing virtual private networks and remote access software put a strain on critical agency infrastructure. Federal agencies that embraced telework prior to the pandemic were generally able to move their operations to a virtual workforce. Those that did not, however, found themselves overwhelmed by the sudden increase in demand for network capacity.

By mid-March, after the Office of Management and Budget mandated agencies to maximize telework, several agencies ran into issues, including a lack of devices, insufficient software licenses and overwhelmed networks. In order to continue their mission, most agencies needed to build or upgrade to a more modern and agile technology infrastructure to support their new virtually connected global workforce.

Telework is Here to Stay

Legislatures responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by working quickly to remove the financial barrier and armed agencies with emergency and stimulus funding. Agencies are now financially able to boost their IT capacity and acquire equipment to operate in the work from home landscape, capabilities that will remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic passes. For example, the Defense Department has seen unprecedented demand for new equipment ranging from tablets, laptops and network equipment to secure devices, DoD CIO Dana Deasy, told reporters recently.

“There will be some permanency to what we have here, specifically, more on the network side, and we will also have to create a base of teleworking equipment, which we will have to in some cases reuse,” Deasy said. “Yes, there is going to be an enhanced teleworking capability that will be sustained at the end of COVID-19.”

Managing operations and productivity in a remote world brings with it the challenge of setting new performance metrics. In order to defend their networks and optimize productivity, agencies need the ability to identify performance impacts, directly obtain performance logs, reduce troubleshooting time and validate service level agreements. Moving forward, agencies that have deployed visibility and performance monitoring solutions will be able to maintain a high level of end user satisfaction.

As both civilian and defense agencies adapt to the new normal of supporting telework and incorporating those capabilities into the larger modernization initiatives, here are a few steps to consider:

  • Focus on the Mission. According to Stuart McGuigan, CIO with the Department of State’s Bureau of Information Resource Management, during a recent AFCEA Bethesda panel, as you engage agency leadership, start by understanding their objectives, what they are trying to achieve, and the barriers blocking successful achievement of mission goals. Then you can start to talk about investment in technology. To that beat, Jamie Holcombe, CIO for the United States Patent and Trademark Office added, “If you can’t relate what you are doing for the mission, it just falls on deaf ears.” The USPTO’s 8,300 patent examiners and 800 trade examiners were already teleworking before the COVID-19 pandemic and has since brought onboard an additional 6,000 to 8,000 contractors and support staff into their teleworking fold.
  • Take Care of Your Workers. A recent 2019 Gartner report indicated that employees use an average of eight SaaS applications to complete their work. How are agencies managing the emotional toll on end users when they encounter delays due to overwhelmed networks and poor application performance? Tools for network performance monitoring (NPM) are available which can inform network teams on how users are accessing the network and how well the network is working for them. Coupling this with mobile application acceleration tools that reduce deployment times can help agencies manage capacity levels, service level capabilities and customer outcome regardless of a pandemic. 
  • Choose the Right Metrics. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. How are agencies reducing latency and the cost of delay when rolling out applications to an extended remote workforce? Visibility into network and application performance is a critical layer in defining these metrics. Agency managers ultimately need a visibility platform that enables them to quickly identify, measure, optimize, accelerate and remediate network and application performance issues for today’s increasingly hybrid enterprise environments.

Along the old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention,” the COVID-19 outbreak gives agencies that are behind the remote workforce curve the opportunity to develop the critical infrastructure that’s required to meet their mission in the new normal paradigm. 

Vernon Samuel is vice president of engineering at RavenTek.

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