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NASCIO Survey Suggests Remote Work's Star May Be Fading

The annual survey of state and territorial CIOs found that emphasis has shifted away from expanding remote and hybrid work and toward legacy modernization and digital services after COVID-19.

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From left to right: NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson, Texas CIO Amanda Crawford and Minnesota CIO Tarek Tomes at NASCIO's annual conference in Louisville, Ky., in 2022.
Credit: David Kidd
In the realm of government IT, remote and hybrid work may be fading in importance — even as it remains common post-pandemic.

In an annual survey from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO), 51 IT leaders from U.S. states and territories were asked to rank the top five changes in business processes, practices and investments that they expect to last beyond the pandemic, a question the association has asked for three years in a row. Expanded remote work options — ranked first in 2020 and second in 2021 — slid all the way to fourth on the list, while increasing prioritization of legacy modernization rose from fifth to second. Digital services remained in first place.

At NASCIO’s annual conference in Louisville, Ky., Minnesota CIO Tarek Tomes said that the reality of post-COVID government IT work is one of “extended experimentation.”

“In Minnesota … half of our workforce never was able to work from home because of [their] job functions, and many public-sector employees continue to be on the front lines,” he said in a panel discussion. “As we move forward, we have to continue to experiment.”

Though remote and hybrid work has become commonplace in all kinds of office environments since March 2020, it has introduced myriad challenges for state and local government. Through the Center for Digital Government’s* annual surveys of jurisdictions across the country, as well as interviews with CIOs and insights from technology vendors, Government Technology has heard of numerous challenges associated with the sudden shift to remote work, notably including new cybersecurity issues such as personal devices and home networks used to conduct government business.

Tomes and Texas CIO Amanda Crawford both said out-of-state hiring is possible for their organizations, but with challenges. With government IT shops struggling to hire enough workers across the country, Tomes said a more fundamental rethinking of workforce is in order.

“We can’t bring people in because the entry point requires a college degree,” he said.

The remote-work shift was also surprisingly successful for many; with agencies across the country adopting digital tools to handle work they had always completed in person manually.

Even if the NASCIO survey suggests some movement against remote work, it also showed that it remains prevalent. When asked what strategies they had used to attract and retain IT workers, 73 percent of survey participants pointed to expanded remote work.
Crawford said during the discussion that in her view the most important aspect of hiring right now is culture.

“I think the key thing … is creating a culture that is a strong culture of commitment to the state and public service, and also celebrating wins in the public sector,” she said.

In a more forward-looking question, CIOs placed much less importance on telework and more importance on reskilling — a subject that would seem to go hand in hand with legacy modernization.
The pandemic illustrated the “fragility” of legacy systems, the NASCIO report stated, creating buy-in from decision-makers on the need to modernize.

“The things we knew inherently in government about what we needed to do to modernize … we had to do it and we had to do it quickly,” Crawford said. “The important things we’d been preaching as a community suddenly resonated with business leaders.”

Training new skills into the IT workforce also appears to be linked heavily to the high demand for digital services; when asked specifically about hurdles to deploying new digital services the most common answer was a need for more workforce skill and capacity.
But more than the challenge of getting digital services out the door, Tomes said they must be accompanied by a new mindset and new structures.

“One of the biggest challenges in meeting demand for digital services is always the ‘how’ … our ability to shift our focus toward a product orientation where innovation is built into the digital service that you’re creating,” he said.

HOW WILL CYBER GRANTS FILTER DOWN?


The survey also included a section on the large amounts of federal funding appropriated in the CARES, ARPA and IIJA legislation in recent years, which included several specific pools of money for state and local government.

NASCIO specifically asked about the IIJA’s State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program, which puts $1 billion toward states with a requirement that 80 percent benefit local government — although that can take the form of shared services rather than direct funding.

The survey showed that a high degree of uncertainty remains among state CIOs about exactly how they will use the funding for local government.

PROGRESS ON DATA PRIVACY AND DIGITAL DRIVERS’ LICENSES


Last year, when NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson discussed the finding that nearly half of states had no plans to pursue digital drivers' licenses, he predicted that that would change.

His words turned out to be prophetic; this year’s survey found significant movement toward digital and mobile drivers' licenses. Three-quarters of states are now working on the concept in some way, even if only through planning.
Another clear trend in the survey was toward enterprisewide data privacy policies. The percentage of states that have passed legislation protecting data privacy for citizens rose from 29 percent in 2020 to 37 percent in 2022; the number of states enacting new privacy policies rose correspondingly.
The full NASCIO survey, conducted with Grant Thornton Public Sector LLC, can be found here.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.
Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.
Noelle Knell has been the editor of Government Technology magazine for e.Republic since 2015. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she 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. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.