Government Workforce Strategies in a Post-Pandemic World

September 15, 2023 / #Workforce Management

This article was originally published on GovLoop.

In the ever-evolving landscape of workforce management, the strategies employed at different levels of government — federal, state, and local — vary significantly.

This is especially true when it comes to hybrid and remote work.

All government agencies have been focusing on return-to-office strategies, attempting to strike a balance between valuable lessons drawn from remote work capabilities during the pandemic and the competing need to maintain strong organizational culture through in-person collaboration.

Yet, while there are commonalities in terms of health and safety precautions, the scale of operations at different levels of government often require different approaches.

Federal agencies, with their broader reach and intricate functions, may adopt a phased re-entry strategy that prioritizes critical functions and services.

In contrast, state and local governments, which often have more direct interactions with their communities, might opt for a localized approach, considering the specific needs and conditions of their regions and the type of work within a team or agency.

Functional Differences: In-Person Services vs. Telework

One of the defining factors shaping workforce management strategies across government levels is the nature of functions performed.

For instance, federal agencies responsible for national security or emergency response may require a larger proportion of employees to work on-site. In-person services like passport processing, law enforcement and disaster management also necessitate a physical presence.

On the other hand, certain functions are more amenable to telework, particularly at the state and local levels. Administrative tasks, financial management, auditing, and some aspects of public affairs can be effectively handled remotely.

However, it’s worth noting that telework obviously requires reliable digital infrastructure including internet service. With varying capabilities, ensuring seamless telework capabilities may pose different challenges across government tiers.

What the Pandemic Taught Us About Hybrid Work

The pandemic thrust governments worldwide into an unprecedented experiment with hybrid work models, offering valuable insights into their feasibility and effectiveness. This experience is especially instructive for workforce management across government levels.

At the federal level, agencies discovered the potential for increased productivity through remote work when teams were equipped with work-from-anywhere software tools. This transition enabled federal agencies to rethink resource allocation and operational models. The wide ranging effects are still being revealed today.

As time passes, agency leaders and policymakers are also realizing the importance of maintaining essential on-site functions and fostering a sense of unity among employees, driving the fall return-to-office push.

State governments learned that hybrid work could contribute to more agile responses to localized issues. The ability to shift between remote and on-site work enabled them to quickly adapt to changing circumstances, such as managing vaccination campaigns or coordinating disaster-relief efforts.

Local governments, often closely connected to their communities, found that hybrid work allowed for enhanced communication and engagement. Remote work enabled officials and constituents to participate in community meetings and outreach programs more efficiently, increasing engagement.

In all cases, embracing hybrid work led to a heightened focus on technology, cybersecurity, and employee well-being.

Yet, the pandemic also highlighted the need for comprehensive digital infrastructure, secure remote access, and effective communication platforms. Additionally, governments recognized the importance of prioritizing mental health support for employees dealing with the challenges of remote work and societal uncertainties.

Lessons Learned: Moving Forward with Successful, Tailored Work Strategies

Each level of government faces distinct challenges and opportunities in facilitating a successful return-to-work or hybrid work strategy. Understanding the unique dynamics of in-person services versus remote work and drawing insights from the lessons learned during the pandemic will be critical in tailoring adaptive and effective workforce management strategies that serve the diverse needs of communities and constituents.

Whether an agency is at the federal, state, or local level, the key to successful workforce management is flexibility as well as innovation and a commitment to fostering a resilient and efficient government workforce capable of navigating the complexities of the modern world.

Russell Miller is Director of Implementation, Government Workforce Management, OPEXUS. Russell has extensive experience providing implementation support for the HR Product Suite at OPEXUS. His expertise helps ensure products are delivered on time and on budget. He is passionate about using technology to improve the day-to-day functionality across government HR processes. In his free time, Russ enjoys Boston’s sport events, boating, and spending time with his family.

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