The Future of Work, Office, and Technology in Local Government

People who work in government, particularly IT, often miss the socialization that the workforce provided. Local governments must adapt to the “new normal”, and these are some of the things that come to mind both in thought and action. The role of information technology has changed the way we think about work and office. Empirical research shows that IT workers, and especially those in government, are missing the human socialization that the workforce has always provided.
One IT director stated, “I didn’t realize the importance of human contact until I was isolated in my home office.” Working with a household to share broadband and avoid home repairs that were obvious required more discipline than I could sometimes muster. Workers of all levels miss the jokes, laughter, and camaraderie. As many IT directors tried, Zoom, WebEx, and Teams became viable substitutes. However, they had their drawbacks and limitations. At a council meeting, a city manager explained why he stopped any building expansion plans until he and the team could assess the future state of the office.
Technology played a crucial role in supporting a workforce that was firmly attached to a physical workplace and had to shift in ways and speeds never imagined. Senior local government managers have been assessing the effects of the pandemic on citizens and workers after a difficult and unpredictable year. Temporary and emergency solutions are being considered for a longer time.
Listening to government technologists and other senior public managers can make a few predictions.
Hybrid is here to stay. Although it seems that many workers are now more comfortable working from home, many still long for the office and a clear separation between work and home. While some workers are more productive when working remotely, others may be more productive in an office environment without distractions and temptations from the home. The hybrid approach seems to be gaining more attention. There are no one-size fits all approaches, and flexibility is the goal. One of the options being discussed is working from home the rest of the week while still working in an office.

The open office concept is dead. Leading office planners say that the once popular “open concept” office is rapidly losing popularity. Although open cubicles were not popular among staff, the fear of germ spreading and the pandemic were health issues that made them less appealing. Open space concepts were too distracting. They saved money, but resulted in lower productivity and morale.

Virtual can have its limitations. People often said that they were “Zoomed Out” due to the interminable and sometimes longer than necessary virtual meetings. They were essential in an emergency, but many people felt frustrated about the lack of progress. Surprisingly collaboration ended up costing more than simple one-on-one or group meetings. Productivity is dependent on the human interpersonal factor.

You should focus on collaboration and sharing space. Expert space planners say offices are being rearranged to facilitate collaboration, meetings, planning sessions, and meeting. Traditional office space is used for those who come to work on a regular or space-available basis. The laptop and tablet have become the unavoidable continuity tools of choice between home and work.

Broadband is an essential utility. The government quickly moved to a mobile environment and the focus quickly shifted towards the citizen. A greater public digital gap was created by the lack of affordable broadband. Public managers came up with clever ways to help those without reliable broadband in a variety of ways. Many people have concluded that broadband is essential for communication with citizens today and crucial for government business, such as signing up to COVID vaccines, etc.

Digital services expand. While many government agencies were ahead of the curve when it came to digital services, many others were not. During the pandemic, the slow acceleration of digital services for citizens reached its peak. All accounts indicate that the public, with broadband and some digital literacy, embraced it. Digital services are not only a great convenience, but they also save you a lot of money over the long-term.

Remote workforce support was improved. The IT department needed to be able to better support a mobile workforce. This has helped to solve problems in connectivity, security, and applications.