Planning for a long-term remote work strategy for local government

By Joe Howland
VC3

Most of us are forced into trying it now. Many of us are intrigued by the idea of it even after quarantine. But what does a long-term remote work strategy really look like?
Too often we’re offered a remote work blueprint from highly successful tech companies like Google, Shopify, and Amazon. But what is possible for local government? Is there a simpler version of the expansive technology toolsets employed by these companies full of technologically savvy employees? Can my city or town realize benefits from remote work with a strategy that fits us?
A strong culture and clear organizational goals influence the ability to create a simple and effective technology plan that moves you towards supporting a thriving remote workforce.

Higher Interest in Remote Work
As we’re hearing more questions about remote work from our clients, we’re also seeing compelling data from the market and VC3 employees:
3 out of 4 CFOs surveyed indicated they will take action to move more of their employees to remote work.
42% (up from 25% in 2015) stated they are making a more flexible workplace a priority.
20% of VC3 employees want to work from home all the time
60% of VC3 employees want to work from home at least 3 days per week

The interest is clear which indicates there must be something behind the curtain. But what is the value?

Remote Work Value
The Benefits to adopting a remote work strategy
The true benefits to your organization can, of course, vary depending on your set of circumstances. However, here are a few that seem to be more common and backed up by data.

Save Money
• Lower Office Costs - You need less office space when you have fewer employees in the office. Real estate cost savings for the organization can vary widely based on market and size, but it also has wide-ranging implications. You’re spending less on desks, chairs, mugs, cups, coffee, office supplies, and so on. You can plug some numbers into this online calculator to get a rough idea of your cost savings as a fun exercise.
• Lower Employee-related Costs – Remote work has shown an ability to reduce employee absenteeism and lower turnover.

Increase Productivity
• Employee productivity can increase – one study found an increase of 4-5% and another found 35-40%. It makes sense that this benefit can depend on the type of role and organization.

Improve Employee Benefits
• Broader Hiring Pool - You can more easily hire employees from out of state, around the country, or around the globe when the pressure to be in the office no longer exists.
• Employees Save Money - Cost savings for the employee can be as much as $5,000 as they save money on everything from eating lunch out to gas to dry cleaning.
The potential benefits are compelling, which is, of course, driving this renewed interest. But does your organization have the culture to realize those benefits?

Remote Work Culture
Understanding your culture and it might support remote work
Much of the literature I found on remote work at some point shares this: you need a strong culture. How do we keep our employees engaged and enthusiastic about where the organization is going?
It can be easier in an office setting to achieve culture by osmosis. Simply being there creates an opportunity for cross-departmental conversations and cohesion around the coffee pot. In lieu of that, a unified, clearly stated vision, organizational goals, and individual goals need to be broadly and frequently shared. Everyone must be rowing in the same direction.
New communication channels and behaviors must be identified and created; data-driven methods of measuring output and performance are helpful to increase clarity and keep teams in sync; and a safe and simple feedback loop from employees to leadership is vital.
And some organizations may not have or want the culture to support remote work. It’s not always a good fit and it’s important to understand your organization’s and employees’ appetite for remote work early on.
At VC3, for example, we’ve allowed periodic remote work for some time. However, it’s been a recent shift for us to more wholly embrace the benefits of remote work and the ensuing work on technology and culture that it requires. Thankfully, our culture, which focuses on fostering transparency, celebrating success, and fueling enthusiasm, translates well to our new remote world.
Here are a few examples of tangible processes we’ve found highly valuable:
A carefully considered and easily accessible vision, mission, and organizational goals;
A monthly all-hands meeting to keep everyone updated on our company’s progress;
Employee scorecards with 1-3 key performance indicators to maintain performance clarity;
A widely adopted chat tool, Slack, where employees discuss projects, share kudos, and have fun together.

You’ll notice in the few examples we shared that technology is present, but not at the forefront. However, to implement these culture changes and enable remote employees, you might need a few new technology tools.

Remote Work Technology
Setting your employees up for success with the right tools and processes
A glance at those highly successful tech companies we mentioned earlier may make you feel like you most invest heavily in all new technology. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be your course of action.
It may be wise to take a crawl, walk, run approach. Test the waters with a pilot group of employees without breaking the bank or torpedoing operations.

Here are the technology categories you’ll need to consider:
Remote Access
To crawl, you really need this one. Employees must be able to easily access all applications, documents, and data required to perform daily tasks. Cloud technology becomes your best friend.

Communication
Not only will you need a video call platform like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, but you’ll also need a computer, camera, and audio equipment to support those video calls.
You also should look into a group chat tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams. This allows for quick, structured work conversations as well as some needed fun conversations for team building.

Project Management and To-Do Lists
Visibility is crucial to keeping everyone in sync. Digital tools are a great way to achieve that visibility with options like Microsoft Planner, Basecamp, and others you can keep track of tasks and projects.

Data-driven Performance Management
Keeping the visibility theme going, it’s a great idea to create a series of metrics for each employee or role. These metrics allow for managers and leadership to measure output and performance in lieu of measuring the input of an employee’s time at his or her desk. Beyond creating this employee scorecard, it’s helpful to have an online visual dashboard that shows real-time progress on these metrics. Such a dashboard is now far more in reach for most organizations with a tool like Microsoft’s Power BI.

Cybersecurity
Supporting a remote workforce does bring to mind some new cybersecurity challenges that need to be overcome. Hopefully, the following are already in your cybersecurity plan, but each becomes even more important with remote employees:
protecting remote access,
careful user management controls,
employee awareness training, and
minimum home requirements for network security and patches.

Putting it All Together
Offering remote work is not a simple project nor should it be a decision reached lightly. You have to consider your organization’s goals, culture, and technology toolset. You are best positioned to understand your organization and culture. But maybe you’d like some help understanding the technology required and how to best align it with your organization. Connect with your IT partner to determine your options.
For more information on VC3 and its services, head over to TML’s TECH page, https://www.tml1.org/tech

About Joe Howland
Joe has been in the IT industry for over 20 years and has extensive IT management experience that spans multiple industries. A UCLA grad with a degree in Mathematics Computation with a Computer Specialization, he worked with Computer Sciences Corporation for 10 years supporting defense and financial sector contracts. Joe joined VC3 in 2009 and during his time with VC3, Joe has performed in the role of Virtual CIO for some of VC3’s largest government customers. Joe is currently VC3’s Chief Information Security Officer and is responsible for VC3’s IT security as well as advising on security for VC3’s customers.