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On-Site, Remote or Hybrid? The Case for In-Person Teams

The country is opening back up and employers are making decisions on what the workplace model will look like. While a hybrid model seems inevitable, there are significant wins to be had by bringing the team back in.

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Government is right in the middle of the fast-moving change forced on all kinds of entities by the pandemic. The narrative in recent months has centered around the push to remote work and what that means for government. Will remote work get pushed even deeper into normal work policies? Will a hybrid environment of remote work and on-premises work rule the day? Or, will governments bring everyone back into their offices and revert to the way it was?

This month’s column will consider the other side of the remote work narrative: the importance of governments being on-premises to balance the remote workforce push. Are there advantages to bringing a partial team or even an entire team back into a physical office? What has government learned from recent remote work efforts that can help nurture the appropriate work environment for the future? Can the old paradigm of government be shifted into a newer model?

STRUGGLES VS. OPPORTUNITIES


Going remote in the blink of an eye added complexity to government’s ability to deliver quality services. Initial struggles centered around how to equip a largely remote workforce to do their jobs from new environments. Government teams needed secure access to legacy technologies to deliver services, while citizens needed strong connectivity to get those same services. All of this was happening while cyber attacks escalated more than ever expected. Procurement was also a significant concern due to the time it takes to get stuff done.

Opportunities also spawned from the struggles as the pandemic progressed. Procurement moved faster than ever before, and remote work became the norm. Services were delivered, and teams found ways to get their work done.

But what happens now? Did the pandemic also create a new world for remote work mixed with the need to be on-premises? Pre-pandemic, government offered a “sense of place” for people to engage. And while the sense of place will be different now, the place is still needed in many ways.

THE WINS



At the Center for Digital Government (CDG), we understand what it takes to lead a team in a physical environment. We were both CIOs for large technology teams. We also understand that there are significant wins from having the team all together in one place. The ability to secure the work environment without worrying about home networks and potentially unprotected computers was the norm for many years. The ability to brainstorm and share ideas casually without scheduling a digital call is very valuable. Access to leadership on a moment’s notice can help speed up timelines for major initiatives. The ability to share ideas at the “water cooler” kept up informal lines of communication and helped colleagues build trusted relationships. Onboarding new employees or those changing assignments often relied on ‘on-the-job’ training. Ensuring that everyone is included and heard, regardless of their communication style, remains critically important. Whatever the setting in the future, leaders need to ensure that there is time and opportunity to build these connections.

Many have noted that extroverts are impacted negatively by remote work and cannot wait to get back in the physical office. Extroverts are driven by personal contact in just about everything they do. Conversely, introverts are thriving in the remote work environment by having the heads down alone time they need to succeed. But the physical office also provided space for introverts to work independently, so heading back to the physical office does offer benefits to introverts as well. Governments need both extroverts and introverts to deliver quality services, and the physical office will continue to play a key role going forward.


THE REALITY



As leaders, the ability to meet with your team in person can be a major factor in building a solid team. The pandemic has also charted the course for successful, large-scale remote work that most governments had not previously attempted. CDG research has shown that different generations have different perceptions of the need to be onsite. Those that have just begun their careers often want to be in a physical location to meet, engage, befriend and understand their colleagues. Those that have been in the physical location for a number of years tend to have a different perspective and embrace some form of remote work to reduce commutes or provide greater work-life balance.


Other recent research has shown that more than 30 percent of employees would like to continue to work from home and more than 20 percent would love to be back in the office. That 20 percent has experienced a feeling of loss from being kept away from their co-workers. They could also have had too much exposure to home life and wrangling housebound kids and pets. The rest have mixed views on what the right model is.

The country is slowly opening back up and employers are making decisions on what the workplace model will look like longer term. Government is also trying to determine what the right solution is. We can all agree that some sort of hybrid model will be the next normal, but to what degree? Physical offices will play an important role and there are significant wins to be had by bringing the team back in, but there are also advantages in maintaining some form of remote work.

We are both from the great state of Michigan, so we are reminded of a quote from automotive innovator Henry Ford. His words underline the need for teams to work closely together. He stated, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Whether remote or in a physical office, working together represents success for governments. As always, we are here to help.
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