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What Will Working for Government Look Like in 2022?

After the successful shift to remote work for many government agencies in 2021, the public sector has begun to weigh the benefits of hybrid work environments and reassess hiring practices.

working remotely on a laptop
Working for the public sector in 2020 meant reacting to the pandemic, shifting to remote as much as possible and keeping the business of government moving forward under extraordinary circumstances. 2021 told a different story, however, one that looks at the next phase of what it means to work for government.

The public sector has embraced digital tools to facilitate remote work and streamline day-to-day administrative operations in the past year. Technology is part of a “new normal” in state and local work, and the dramatic shift to telework that began in March 2020 will leave its mark on government workplaces in a post-COVID-19 landscape, according to then-Iowa CIO Annette Dunn and other state and local tech leaders across the U.S.

In January 2021, Dunn’s team took over a lease for two floors in a privately owned commercial office building shortly before making their second shift to remote work during another upsurge in COVID-19 cases. By that time, most of her office had experience working from home and felt confident about their ability to work remotely.

“When I go into the office, it’s almost not worth it, because there are maybe one or two people in a two-floor radius,” Dunn told Government Technology in June. “It’s very sparse, so I just make sure that I connect with everybody remotely … I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if I said remote working doesn’t work, because it has worked.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of workers who never worked remotely before the pandemic now prefer telecommuting at least part time or as part of a “hybrid” model mixing facets of digital and traditional in-person work. By April 2021, about 95 percent of Dunn’s team, for instance, worked remotely, not unlike other government organizations at the time.

This change in preference among workers and officials has forced some HR and IT officials to rethink workplace management, as well as the hiring process, with telework being a major consideration.

“The bulk of our people will still work from home primarily,” Tennessee Deputy Chief Information Officer J.P. McInnes told Government Technology in June. “We are going to model whatever the [workforce development] agencies decide to do. If the Department of Health, for example, says they are coming back to work three days a week, and two days a week you can work from home, then that’s exactly what the IT team that supports that department will do.”

This all adds up to a more flexible future for government work, especially as we continue to ride the waves of COVID-19 variants and case surges. All-in-person and all-remote may be too stringent in the next chapter of public-sector employment.

The world of public K-12 and higher education, once considered among the most resistant to digitization efforts in the public sector, has, like its government counterparts, embraced this new flexibility offered by technology. Tech is now seen as a means of enhancing instruction rather than as a distraction to students. Nearly two years and billions of federal and state dollars later, K-12 districts have made significant progress in expanding Internet and device access to students for remote and hybrid learning. According to a February survey led by the RAND Corp., about 20 percent of schools began establishing and expanding online courses for families that elected to remain engaged in remote learning when millions of students made their return to brick-and-mortar classrooms in 2021. Internet connectivity and access to devices are now considered a central part of how learning happens, rather than a luxury or a quick fix to temporary school closures. Expect this evolution, and the funding demands that come with it, to remain at the top of the agenda.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.