The ubiquity of connectivity, increasingly portable and robust computing power, and more attentiveness put to security measures like dual authentication and biometric logins have fueled a corporate shift that has big cultural and economic implications. Organizations are embracing a flexible telework environment, and employees are coming to expect it. More people report being employed in these remote work situations than in part-time contracts. In fact, a 2017 Gallup poll on telework (the most recent) reveals that 43% of Americans work remotely at least part of the time.1

For the private sector and government agencies alike, the benefits of flex work and telework are compelling for a variety of reasons. Organizations that allow this structure have an easier time recruiting and retaining talent.2 Many report a 50% decrease in employee attrition3 and as much as a 15% productivity improvement per employee due to less commute time, less lost work time due to weather, and other tactical hurdles.4

Digital transformation is the starting point for those kinds of measurable improvements to morale and operations. The previous posts in this series on Enabling Missions Success with RPA, AI, and Common Sense have explored the cultural shifts and tactical decisions involved in moving government agencies from manual, paper-based processes (Phase One) to technology-supported, more highly digitized modes of managing information (Phase Two). The very same digital transformation processes and systems are not only enabling these kinds of workplace benefits, but also mitigating some of the common concerns around telework, such as how to prevent loss of supervision and security as people are empowered to telework.

Telework in the Government Arena

You might be surprised to learn that the federal government has recognized the utility of telework for more than two decades.5 What initially was presented as a solution for transportation concerns now aids in recruitment and retention, reduces the government’s real estate footprint and associated costs, and limits productivity disruptions, among other benefits. Ultimately, those benefits translate into improved services for the public, delivered in a more efficient and consistent manner.

The 2010 Telework Enhancement Act put specifics in place to help government agencies successfully implement and manage telework programs that would allow them to meet mission objectives and help employees enhance work-life effectiveness.6 Necessary to the success of those initiatives are solid guidelines, a highly qualified and trusted workforce, and the right tools.

One government Agency with which NT Concepts has partnered offers a great case study for the processes and intended outcomes of advancing telework by progressing from Phase One (manual, human-driven) to Phase Two (technology-supported) processes. The Agency requires a workforce with high security clearance. Many are handling casework with personally identifiable information (PII) and operating under government-mandated security standards.

They have to know they can trust their people to work offsite, they have to know what levels of secure information they can manage offsite, and they have to have tools in place to enable those human and resource demands to work well.

The Evolution to Paperless: A Mini Case Study

The Agency initially introduced telework options in the 1980s for government employees whose work required them to be out of the office. However, all information was handwritten, and all documents were made a part of a physical file. As time moved on, other employees were able to move from the office to telework, but those options remained limited and difficult to use due to process requirements. For example, in an attempt to maintain security, employees eligible for telework were only allowed to work every other day outside of the office. On remote workdays, employees had to transport physical files using large suitcases or rolling cases. (Neither convenient nor secure.) Any digital information was maintained on large floppy disks, and there was no digital connection between home offices and the agency facilities.

Checking out files was only half the burden. Upon return, every paper file had to be manifest back into the filing system. This manual process required up to two hours per day to manifest files out and back in. Any notes taken outside of the office had to be brought in and destroyed. As we detailed in the previous case study, the cost, time, and space required for this kind of manual case filing are astronomical. Beyond the inefficiencies, these manual security procedures presented a significant risk for file misplacement and loss. Moving to a paperless process has meant that few or no physical documents are being moved, dramatically reducing opportunities for document loss and increasing the potential of a successful telework program.

Given the sensitive nature of the data the Agency handles, it’s critical that employees can be trusted before allowing them to work remotely. Telework must be implemented as a well-thought-out, structured program with a laser focus on security and document integrity. The following list is a representative sample of the kinds of intentional, careful considerations and steps that we undertake in the process of instituting telework policies that free employees to work remotely and reduce any risk to the network or PII.

Technology & Tools

  • All work must be completed on software and hardware systems maintained by the Agency
  • The Agency provides equipment (e.g., the Windows-To-Go stick) and remotely manages it, including software updates and technical troubleshooting
  • All hardware that allows access to Agency systems must be secured behind a double barrier during transport, working hours, and off-work hours
  • Hardware is used solely for legitimate business purposes; no personal use is permitted

Process & Procedure

  • The Agency maintains a list of allowable and prohibited remote work locations outside of the home office, such as public areas, coffee shops, or hotel lobbies
  • The Agency stipulates that only cleared Agency employees are permitted in the remote work area
  • Employees must use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to remotely access the Agency’s computer network Periodic home-office audits are performed by Security, Integrity, Quality and Operational
  • Leadership, confirming that the environment is secure and that the Telework Policy guidelines are followed
  • Telework Policy and Domicile Storage Agreement must be acknowledged prior to beginning telework

People

  • Employees are provided with comprehensive training that reiterates security policies and ensures they are comfortable and competent with the technology
  • Agreements are in place for how the employee will meet Agency connectivity mandates, particularly in those Agencies that prohibit wireless network connections
  • Secure team collaboration platforms are in place for tasks like document sharing, message delivery, and communication
  • Requirements dictate when and how managers host meetings via conference bridges, and that employees come to the office as needed
  • An internal and external help desk is available to assist remote employees with technical issues

By addressing these human-level concerns while undertaking digital transformation processes necessary to move from Phase One to Phase Two, the Agency has experienced measurable successes. For one, the attractiveness of telework has given the Agency a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining high-quality employees.

Effective digital transformation has momentum. Once in place, it should have a snowball effect. Today, even as the Agency continues that process, telework is doing more than contributing to the success of digital transformation — it is helping to drive it. Telework is a model proven by our own organization and by our Agency partners to remove cultural, geographic, and time-dependent barriers. It promotes true digital work, and in doing so, supports the work-life balance of valuable team members. The result of these careful, secure efforts is an organization whose ranks are filled with motivated staff qualified to continue the Agency’s mission delivery.


In this blog series, we take a closer look at the journey from paper dependency to paperless success using continuous process improvement, inserting RPA, implementing AI and machine learning (ML) solutions for analytic augmentation and prediction, and managing a productive and happy distributed workforce. If you’re interested in learning more about the impact information referenced in this article, or have questions about how NT Concepts helps agencies to realize these high-value efficiencies, please reach out to us!

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