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Building Culture While Working Remote in Washington State

Washington CIO Bill Kehoe and Chief of Staff Amy Pearson explain that while their agency is fully remote and even hiring out-of-state talent, they still find ways to bring staff together on big projects.

Chief of Staff Amy Pearson and CIO Bill Kehoe of Washington Technology Solutions
WaTech's Chief of Staff Amy Pearson and CIO Bill Kehoe.
Government Technology/David Kidd
We’re three-and-a-half years out from when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to re-evaluate how — and from where — people work. Now that the dust has mostly settled and public- and private-sector agencies alike have chosen long-term solutions, we asked CIOs at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Annual Conference in Minneapolis earlier this month: Where did the government workforce land?

Washington state agencies have been left to decide what works best for them, depending on the type of service they provide, said CIO Bill Kehoe. For Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech), that has meant full-time remote work for everyone, which has in turn opened up new avenues for hiring.

Not only is WaTech open to hiring outside the state capital in Olympia, they’re recruiting remote technology staff living out of state, which agency Chief of Staff Amy Pearson says means they can hire “the best people for the work.”

Or as Kehoe put it, “We want to be flexible with our employees and if we don’t do that we can’t be competitive in hiring the best.”

That has involved some logistical changes in terms of payroll and budget, but they’re making it work, Kehoe said. It has also introduced questions around how to build culture given that geographically distributed workforce.

Kehoe and Pearson described WaTech’s “whiteboarding sessions,” when they have staff come into the office for one or two days to solve big problems in a way they might not do as effectively if everyone is online. That has fostered not only good ideas, but more team-building and camaraderie.
Lauren Kinkade is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.
Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including <i>Government Technology</i>, <i>Governing</i>, <i>Industry Insider, Emergency Management</i> and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.