Public Sector Remote Work Challenges
The shift from in-person work to remote work during the pandemic was easier for some industries than it was for others. It is a surprise to no one that the public sector was not a leader in this transition. It is easy enough to dismiss this as an inevitability due to governmental bureaucracy and aging IT infrastructure, but it is instructive to look at some specific reasons why the public sector struggled at this, so that the public sector may do better in the future. The following are challenges and opportunities to consider:
Public sector work culture. The public sector has historically been less open to the notion of remote working prior to the pandemic, making them less prepared to pivot to remote work. With workers being dependent on their physical office space and its equipment to do their work properly, they could not easily conduct their work responsibilities from home. Developing a public sector work culture that values and promotes flexibility is a win-win-win for employees, citizens, and organizations. Remote working can help to reduce costs relating to operations, supplies, equipment, furniture, real estate, and maintenance, and can help employees to feel more valued and engaged.
Policies. Adoption of remote work options generally lag behind the private sector, and remote work options lag even more for certain populations. Some reports indicate that access to remote work has been found to be unequal, with those with a bachelor’s degree or higher having the option to work from home more than any other education category, White Americans having more remote work options than Black and Hispanic or Latino workers, and additional inequities have been found to exist for the poor, the young, and for women.1 Ensuring equal access to remote work options is obviously, absolutely essential, and can be achieved by creating non-discriminatory remote work policies.
Paper. The public sector’s reliance on paper to conduct business was a huge barrier to transitioning to remote work. Workers who needed to access paper forms, paper files, and/or physical documents in order to do their jobs found themselves with a frustrating lack of access and ability from their remote work locations. Digitization of records and securing them on cloud platforms will ensure that all records are more easily accessible and are future-disaster-proof.
Cybersecurity. Many public sector organizations found themselves unprepared for the massive security threats that accompanied their employees accessing their organization’s networks from home networks or other access points. Training employees on cybersecurity threats such as phishing, social engineering, malicious applications, and insecure WiFi connections will help to lower the risks of them compromising sensitive data.
Overworking. After suddenly being throw into a remote working environment without experience and training, many workers were left with the shared experience of overworking. Rather than people simply “working from home”, they felt as if they were living in their office. Making remote work a more routine feature of a public sector business model will ensure that employees are prepared with the time management skills necessary to maintaining a work-life balance while working remotely.
1 California Transportation Commission, 2021, “Effects of COVID-19-Related Telework Policies on the Transportation System”