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How Google Cloud Powers the New Government Workforce — ICYMI

Katie Tobin was a fellow with the Truman National Security Project and worked in national security before joining Google. She discusses the innovative ways that technology is being used in today's hybrid workforce.

The pandemic significantly changed the way many people perform their jobs, increasing reliance upon technology and introducing remote work to employees who did not previously have that option.

A Pew Research Center report from last year found that many workers did not have jobs that could be done remotely, however. Workers were also concerned about inequalities in a tech-driven future but were still hopeful that changes spawned by the pandemic would result in improved conditions through more flexible workplace arrangements.

Research being conducted at Stanford University and the University of Chicago confirmed that about 25 percent of workers will likely transition to a hybrid workforce post-pandemic with 15-20 percent continuing to fully work from home.

For the public sector, the challenges of managing a remote or hybrid workforce are coupled with the need to meet increasing constituent expectations for services while also keeping sensitive data secure.

Research by the Center for Digital Government* on the evolving government workplace found that nearly half of the 215 government leaders who responded to a survey planned to support a hybrid model through 2022 or 2023. The top drawbacks they saw to remote or hybrid work included a decreased workplace culture and increased feelings of employee isolation.

In this episode of In Case You Missed It, Dustin Haisler, Joe Morris and Jed Pressgrove spoke with Katie Tobin, head of workspace innovation for the global public sector at Google, about the new environment and what public-sector leaders can do to manage their workforce.



The following interview has been edited for clarity:

Q: You've been looking at this landscape and how it's changed and evolved over the last two years. Can you break down for our audience where we are at with hybrid work today?

A: So, in the beginning, we went to work … and work happened at work, and home happened at home. And then all of a sudden, everything happened at home and there were often no boundaries, right? People were thrust into this weird situation where we had to figure out what tools are we allowed to use, how do they work, what are the policies, what's the security … especially the public sector. The job has to get done, right? The services need to still be provided to the public and then often those had to change during the pandemic.

And two years later we're figuring things out. A lot of people … I think I saw it was over 80 percent of remote workers … want to stay remote, at least to some extent. And yet now we're seeing the move toward going “back to work.” It seems to be different for every office, right? Some are full time, some are part time. Some are do what you want, some are do as you're told. Some are gradual, some are not. And so now everyone has to figure it out for themselves.

So, this can be a really exciting time or a really scary time. And I want to focus on the excitement factor and the opportunities here for our public workers. Because there's a lot you can do. We do not have to go back to 2019. Especially on the Google Workspace side — a lot of the tools either didn't exist at all or not in their current form before the pandemic. Now there's a lot you can do to not only get your job done well, regardless of location, but also to do it better when half of your workforce is physically in the office and half are remote. I'm really excited to talk to you guys about some specific things you can do for that, but really just to spark some interest in trying it yourself.

Q: We’ve heard that this has changed how managers are managing their employees — whether that's measuring their productivity or trying to wrap their arms around the culture of their organization. In a hybrid environment, this can be a daunting task. How should government leaders be looking at leading their workforces differently?

A: I think they should start by leading by example, right? Be the change you want to see in the world. So they can start by showing that they are taking this very seriously and setting their own boundaries — when are they working, where are they working and when are they not working?

For example, in Google calendar you can set the days that you'll be in the office versus at home, and you can also set your work hours. And I don't just mean 9 to 5 — you can really make it more granular. I know a lot of people have child-care duties and so maybe they need to be offline for a little bit in the morning or in the afternoon. I'm a triathlete and so I have swim practice midday sometimes. So you can set your boundaries using your calendar and then it will automatically decline meetings that are happening when you're not actually at work.

That gives more space for the person to be a human. It also gives the managers more accountability because when they schedule a team meeting on a certain day, they’ll know how many people will actually be there. Do you know how big the conference room should be? Do you know when would be a good day to actually have that all-hands? It's not working around the current system, it's actually enhancing the system and making it more transparent and more equitable for people.

You can also improve your productivity by setting focus time. I know that I would be in meetings all day, every day, if I allowed it. So, to actually get things done, you can create blocks of time in your schedule as “focus time” to make sure that you're catching up on things. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Q: One of the things that our audience gravitates to are specific examples of places that are doing it right. Where are those bright spots or those agencies that are standard examples of doing hybrid work the right way?

A: Well, we have this community called Public Sector Connect, and I encourage you all to join. That's a great way for all public-sector employees to find each other and to share their best practices and to ask each other for help. They have weekly coffee hours which are via Google Meet, as you can imagine. Just today we had one where people were sharing their success stories around document management and approval workflows. We had people from all over, and the speakers were from Colorado, Arizona and West Virginia.

One example from West Virginia is that they figured out how to automate some approval workflows so if you need a certain type of document approved it has a label and then it is automated, letting you know who needs to sign off on it before it becomes public. Everyone in the audience, even the Googlers were like, “That's amazing! Show us your ways!” And you get that every week … new best practices … so we love that.

We're also seeing in some communities, because of the hybrid nature of the work or the remote work, they can recruit and retain talent from outside of the municipality. Especially if you're a small town or you're a really expensive place to live, you can now recruit a workforce who doesn't necessarily live there because they don't have to commute. So some small towns are using a lot of volunteer support, digital volunteers, whether that's for emergency management or helping run some of the behind the scenes work for the town because so much of it is online. You can train people via a YouTube video. You can create checklists and Google forms. You can set things up that allow your onboarding and recruiting and workforce management to happen remotely. And it just opens so many doors for people.

Q: You've already touched on some of these examples, especially when it comes to the impact on the workforce — the idea of drawing talent from outside of the local area boundary, which is something we've been talking about in government technology for a while now ever since the pandemic started. What about the impact on how they deliver services? Could you talk a little bit about that?

A: Absolutely. I think now that we as public citizens are used to doing our work remotely, we kind of expect public services to be remote-friendly too. I mean, we had to get driver's licenses without going into the DMV during COVID-19. Now there's this expectation — we know what's possible, so what can we do remotely there? Just one example off the top of my head is a county in Colorado which has put a lot of their pet adoptions online. Websites for dogs have been around since the beginning of the Internet, right? I feel like a large portion of the Internet is dogs and cats, which is great, but they are now able to use a combination of Google forms and app script to automate the workflows for this. They don't need human employees to manually populate the website and handle adoptions for the dogs and communicate where things are at. It’s scripted and automated. So that's a much better user experience for someone — you don't have to go in, you don't have to call … especially if you are unable to get there because you're worried about COVID-19 or you are far away or if you have a disability and it's hard to travel to a place in person. It really just opens the door to more equitable public services because agencies are able to be more creative.

I also want to put in a note about security. Often we've thought about this tension between having something very convenient and very easy, or having it be very secure, but being unable to have both. And now we know that is untrue. Because Google Workspace in particular is zero trust, which I'm sure you guys have talked about on this program before. It's very secure but it's also very easy to use. You can have both. You can have that great customer-facing experience where people are able to interact with the government online but they know their data is secure. Not only is it stored in a secure place, but the employees can access it regardless of where they work — whether they're in the office or at home, whether they're on government-furnished equipment or if they're using their own laptop or phone — it is still very secure. And you're not relying on, you know, someone with a 16-digit password they have to change every six weeks and they just put on a Post-it note under the keyboard. Not that I've ever done that! It's very secure, and that just builds trust for the public. They feel more confident in the services they're receiving from government. It's a better user experience. It's more efficient. And then also it's very secure. So everybody wins.

Q: I'm glad you brought up security because we've also noted, just talking with chief information security officers, for example, that the security conversation has changed. Some people do have those very real concerns about security in this hybrid workforce environment. Could you talk a little bit more about some of the foundational elements that make these things secure? What are the elements that every agency needs to feel that security?

A: Absolutely. So, if you were in the audience and you just heard me say “zero trust” and your eyes glazed over and you thought, “Oh no, she's going technical!” let me explain what that means in a way that I've explained it to my parents … and they got it.

If you think of your traditional security, your username and password, if you’re a teenager and you're trying to sneak into a disco (or a club, for those not in Europe) that would be like having a fake ID. You show up at the club with your “McLovin” ID. And you're like, “This is me!” And if you have the breached username and password, like the fake ID, they'll let you in. Then you can have your drinks and you can go dancing and, you know, all is lost.

Zero trust is when you show up with your fake ID and the bouncer's like, “I see that you have an ID. I see that your username and password are there, but you are here at a really weird time. Aren't you normally in school? Also, that's not your car … that's not your girlfriend … you're wearing a different outfit. Something is suspicious here.” Right? So all of these different factors are at play. And then, even if you manage to trick the bouncer, when you get into the club, you can't drink. The bartenders are suspicious. They’re not going to give you any drinks. You try to pop onto the dance floor and bust a move, but the music stops. So, even if you breach the perimeter, you still can't have any fun. And that's what zero trust is. It's looking at a myriad of factors … and once you're in, you're not really in. So that's what makes it so secure.

That's really the paradigm that we should be seeing now. And the good news is this is not difficult. It gets built in with Google Workspace so the burden is not on the user. You know, I don't have a technical background and the burden is not on me, which is great. I can do all of my work and I don't have to worry about being that weak link that ruins things for everyone. And that is such a relief. I hope that all of our public servants can also be in a world where they're focused on getting their job done, not on also being an expert in spotting a phishing attempt or coming up with the most secure password again and again. The admins also know that it's a very secure system and they can focus on other good things about Google Workspace. It just makes it easier for everyone in a really user-friendly way.

Q: Staying productive and having meaningful collaboration are really top of mind for a lot of agencies out there as they try to navigate this hybrid reality. Do you have any tips or tactics that our audience can leverage to really maximize their productivity?

A: We've all been in the situation where you're in an in-person meeting. We've all done that. We've all done all-virtual … that's what we're doing right now. But what do you do when it's hybrid? How do you make it not feel lonely?

Because if everyone is hanging out without you, if everyone's in the conference room and they're high-fiving and getting their coffee and everything and you're at home (or there's a couple of you at home), sometimes you can feel disadvantaged. Maybe you can't see them — the camera is like zoomed way out. They're all talking and they can kind of wink and nod at each other and you're like, “Hi. [Hand raise].” Or vice versa, right? You're the one in the conference room because you went in, because you need that. Extroverts, hello! You went into the office and everyone else is hanging out hybrid. They're in the chatroom and they've got their little hand raised function and you're like, “What about me?”

What's great is that in Meet we have this thing called “companion mode” and this is pretty new where you can be both in person and virtual. So, when I'm in a conference room, I turn on companion mode and then I am also present in the virtual space. It doesn't double up on the camera. It doesn't double up on the microphone — you don't have that weird echo. But it allows you to do all of the things that you could do if you were virtual, which really makes it easier … especially dropping links in the chat and things like that.

In addition, when we're in a meeting, it's not just to hang out, it's to get something done, right? We're working on a document. We need to work on these slides, and how hard is it if you're talking and you want to make eye contact and have all those human signals but you're also working in the document. You can kind of like look back and forth. Awkward! You can switch tabs. Dangerous! (I have so often closed out of a tab by mistake because I was switching tabs.) Or you have two screens, which I don't. A lot of people don't have two screens. What do you do? And so now, within Meet, you can be in the document and have the faces right next to it and edit the document in real time.

I encourage you to go to the website where we're showing the space. You can get the latest update on all the features. We had a Workspace summit yesterday, but don't worry, it's on demand. There were sessions on hybrid work. If you are really jazzed about this topic, as I clearly am, you can get more of it at the Workspace summit and just watch the space because there are new features coming out all the time. And the good thing is, you know, they're super secure. So, try new things, see what works for you and then know that better things are always on the way. And you can give feedback on them at Public Sector Connect and talk to the developers and tell them what's working for you and what's not working for you. That's how we make the tools better for the public servants.

Q: What do you think is on the horizon? What should our audience be prepared for, whether they're a manager, a CIO or an elected leader?

A: Oh man, where's my crystal ball? I do think we're going to see people finding their new ways around things. And now that we're so connected and there's this expectation of being able to share things and do things remotely that the best practices and the creative fixes will transfer. We won't have these silos of people thinking, “Well, I guess this is the way we do things.” Hopefully this means that the best ways to work will proliferate and people will just have more situational awareness of the way things could be. Even if you're in remote Alaska … actually, I'm originally from Alaska. The largest state, smallest municipalities … you can find out what's working for people in Florida or Hawaii or Guam and really make it work for you. So, I think the future of hybrid work is something that is not even on my radar right now, but I trust that I will learn about it and that, thanks to programs like yours, people will share it. And we can build on each other's goodness and creativity.

Q: Speaking of sharing … one more time, where can our audience go to learn more about Google Cloud's approach and solutions for hybrid work?

A: I always recommend Public Sector Connect. Go to that link for our Google solutions focused on the government and cloud. If you are a government employee or education employee, use your work email address … that's how we validate people to join Public Sector Connect, which is free. You don't have to be a Google customer. It's really just for people who are interested. And that way you can meet your community and connect and really learn, ask questions and grow.


Join the Public Sector Connect community to find others in government and education solving problems with Google Cloud.

Learn more about Google Cloud Workspace products.

Watch the Google Workplace Summit sessions on demand.


“In Case You Missed It” is Government Technology’s weekly news roundup and interview live show featuring e.Republic* Chief Innovation Officer Dustin Haisler, Deputy Chief Innovation Officer Joe Morris and e.Republic Content Studio Editor Jed Pressgrove as they bring their analysis and insight to the week’s most important stories in state and local government.

Follow along live each Friday at 12 p.m. PST on LinkedIn and YouTube.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, which is the parent company of Government Technology.
Dustin Haisler is the Chief Innovation Officer of Government Technology's parent company e.Republic. Previously the finance director and later CIO for Manor, Texas, a small city outside Austin, Haisler quickly built a track record and reputation as an early innovator in civic tech. As Chief Innovation Officer, Haisler has a strategic role to help shape the company’s products, services and future direction. Primarily, he leads e.Republic Labs, a market connector created as an ecosystem to educate, accelerate and ultimately scale technology innovation within the public sector. Read his full bio.
Joseph Morris is the Deputy Chief Innovation Officer of Government Technology's parent company e.Republic and a national keynote speaker on issues, trends and drivers impacting state and local government and education. He has authored publications and reports on funding streams, technology investment areas and public-sector priorities, and has led roundtables, projects and initiatives focused on issues within the public sector. Joe has conducted state and local government research with e.Republic since 2007 and knows the ins and outs of government on all levels. He received his Bachelor of Arts in government and international relations from the California State University, Sacramento.
Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.