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Experts: Remote Work Should Be the Future of Government

Public-sector and industry leaders remarked on the future of work at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo, saying remote should be the default to improve efficiencies and aid in recruitment.

Remote Work Panel Smart Cities Connect Conference.jpg
From left, Felicite Moorman, CEO of Stratis IoT; John Whitehead, vice president of sales in North America at Hexagon; David Graham, chief innovation officer of Carlsbad, Calif.; and Ruthbea Yesner, vice president for government insights, education and smart cities at IDC Government Insights.
(Skip Descant/Government Technology)
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Government became more virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic. And that's how things might stay, as remote capabilities have opened up new possibilities for innovation and change, according to experts at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo yesterday.

“It’s time to turn disaster into opportunity,” said David Graham, chief innovation officer of Carlsbad, Calif., speaking on a panel about the future of work. “We have a whole series of things that we had to do, that have proven that we as both public and private sector can do things that no one expected could ever happen, overcome challenges that have been decades in the making, and have come out well on the other side.”

Some of the opportunities for government revolve around recruitment or improving efficiency.

John Whitehead, vice president of sales in North America at Hexagon, remarked about the rapid move by 911 centers away from office-based equipment and servers to more cloud-based postures, which allow for flexible work environments.

"We’ve really seen some of the agencies start to embrace that,” said Whitehead in reference to trends over the last year.

The option of remote work can also be used as a recruitment tool, said Felicite Moorman, CEO of Stratis IoT.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for government to get ahead of some of the big business types that are just not willing to shift as quickly as they need to,” Moorman said.

During the pandemic, city officials in Carlsbad quickly realized that “being physically in the same space didn’t add any advantage,” said Graham.

“And I think that’s the flip in thinking that needs to occur, which is, virtual should be the default,” he added.

The pandemic made old ways yield to new technologies and innovations. Graham suggested the central concern around remote work was that if employees aren't sitting at their desks in city hall, would they still perform their jobs? Carlsbad, Graham added, had already developed a remote-work plan but had never put it to use.

The pandemic quickly put the plan in motion for the city.

“As far as a productivity measure [is concerned], seeing someone at a computer is about the worst productivity measure you can think of,” he quipped, taking a swipe at the traditional in-office work posture that few prior to the pandemic seemed to be willing to let go of.

Graham would go on to state that the future of work will be remote and digital, and based on more tenable productivity metrics.

"Ultimately, it is accommodating the way that people want to work and focusing on productivity, not where they are sitting,” he said.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.