As Telework Becomes the New Normal, Take 6 Steps to Reap the Benefits

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This experience and rapid transition illustrated that telework can work, presenting an opportunity to attract and retain geographically dispersed talent.

The Office of Personnel Management’s recent Status of Telework in the Federal Government report illustrates how much the federal government may have had to adjust to move to a largely remote workforce over the past two months. According to data in the report from fiscal 2018, only 22% of the federal workforce teleworked during the year and only 42% of workers were eligible for remote work.

With this as the starting point, agencies achieved the unthinkable and nearly overnight enabled telework, with the basic technology to support the change. Ideally, the transition to a fully or partially remote workforce would be a multi-year journey. But in a matter of weeks, agencies developed mission capabilities and discovered they could securely and efficiently telework. 

As agencies look forward to collaborating in person again, this experience and rapid transition illustrated that telework can work, presenting an opportunity to attract and retain geographically dispersed talent. Now, many federal agencies have established best practices for telework success and are looking to move past operational to efficient and effective. 

Cultural and technology-focused best practices are making telework a success. Here are steps that are helping agencies succeed and will allow remote work options to succeed even as workers are permitted to return to physical offices. 

Technical Best Practices

It’s no surprise that most workplaces today rely on technology to a large degree, but when teleworking, having the right technology, security and ability to collaborate is even more essential. 

Inventory technology and provide access:  Most agencies have already taken the initial steps to transition to remote work. However, the first step should be to assess the current technology footprint and see if it is helping or hindering employee work. Find ways to provide employees with the technology best suited to their needs. 

Departments can benefit from creating personas for their workers in terms of their employees’ roles. By creating personas—whether administration, human resources, security and more—the agency can more easily assess what each worker needs to be not just operational, but effective.

Make access to tech easy: Agencies should simplify how federal workers consume tech. Establish an internal and external access portal with digital resources including device enrollment, virtual desktops, applications and more. New technology set up should be automated or tech provided with apps and settings pre-installed.

Secure from end to end: Security should protect the full stack from infrastructure to applications to operations and the approach should be resilient, intelligent and automated. When working remotely password management policies, data classification rules, and using a secure virtual private network for remote network access become especially important. 

Security should extend to collaboration and communication tools that allow federal workers to conference and collaborate with their teams anywhere. 

This is an important time to consider the security of an agency’s IT infrastructure. The move to more widespread telework may accelerate digital transformation and cloud migration efforts, but remember that cloud isn’t a destination, it’s an operating model. To appropriately protect workloads with differing security requirements, a consistent hybrid cloud approach including both private and public clouds is a best practice.

Collaborate, continue, recover: Finally, agencies should view the transition to remote working as an ongoing process. Just because the federal workforce is remote does not mean there’s nothing left to do. Each agency, each department within an agency and each federal worker has different technology needs and it is up to agency leaders to listen to their workforce and collaborate on the best technological choices.

Social Best Practices

While many agencies are addressing the technical steps needed to transition to remote work, there are social and cultural shifts occurring as well. Addressing these will better support remote workers and agency missions.

Ensure new “office space” is secure: Help each employee assess the security and privacy of their remote work environment. Federal workers who deal with sensitive information should be educated on basic privacy practices such as making sure their screen is not visible from a window, using headphones on video calls and logging out of any network connections once done for the day.

Prepare leaders and communicate: Prepare agency leadership to guide and listen to their employees. Communication is key whether it be instructing on how to set up remote access, VPN and other technology, or discussing projects, deliverables and timeframes. 

It’s also essential to keeping the workforce connected while remote. Consider virtual coffee chats or open office hours to build relationships and support employee mental health.

Agencies can continue to learn. As they meet their missions in a remote environment, they can begin to become more effective. Agencies should assess how initial tech solutions are functioning and scale or replace solutions as appropriate. 

Technology, security and culture are essential for a connected, remote workforce. While there’s uncharted territory ahead, federal agencies have made unthinkable progress. Let’s continue to progress forward, learning from recent experiences and reimagining the future of work. 

The federal government’s digital transformation accelerated by nearly a decade in just the past few months with greater work from home capabilities, expanding network access and use of cloud, and the strengthening of data collection and security. Basic technology practices and cultural considerations will allow digital transformation to continue and agencies to make this rapid transition into an ongoing modernization path.

Steve Harris is senior vice president and general manager of Dell Technologies Federal.

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