How to Optimize Your People: A Guide for the Public Sector (3rd in a 3 part series)
The year 2020 was certainly full of challenges for the public sector, and this year promises to continue the pressure. Globally to locally, we’ve seen the public sector grappling with how to handle the pandemic and its fallout. At the same time, government agencies have been trying to step up and innovate how they reach people — with services, information, and guidance.
The through-line is digital. As offices had to close many of their physical spaces to make the shift to online services, we tapped into digital solutions. It’s a shift that was already on the horizon, and for some agencies it had already started. But necessity has forced a nearly universal transformation the public sector may not have been culturally — or functionally — prepared for. The challenge is how to provide public sector employees with the tools and processes they need to deliver the same or better services under entirely different conditions. The solution is a digitally delivered system that enables them to spend more time focusing on people, and less time on administrative tasks.
The present is the future.
No matter the sector, we’re all asking the same question: now that we’ve gone remote or shifted some of our workforce to remote, now that we’ve had to migrate so much of our functions online, are we ever going back? For those in the public sector it certainly depends on the nature of the agency, but overall, we’re likely not. For one thing, we have already had to create the solutions and approaches that work during a pandemic; those have already been in place for long enough that the very way we regard our jobs has changed. We’ve all discovered we can do things we never previously thought we were capable of.
As EY noted in a recent report on remote working among the public sector, there has been a marked cultural shift around working remotely among government employees. The study found enthusiastic adoption of digital systems, impressive flexibility, and a surprising ability to scale a pretty steep learning curve. In one instance, a public service office in Ohio went from 10% of remote staff to 100% percent in under 30 days. Among the technologies that enabled the smooth transition were virtual meeting tools. In other municipalities, hundreds of laptops were quickly deployed. What managers found is that their teams were ready — and familiar — with many of the new tools that now became part of their jobs. They had already used them in their own lives — as consumers — and understood how they worked. Even if we go back to on-site workspaces, we’re already beyond the legacy systems we had to rely on before. There’s no reason to go back.
The Human Toll of Manual Administration
All organizations benefit from optimizing administrative tasks to save people for those interactions that need personal attention. In the public sector, efficiency is a necessity, driven by an oft-prevailing combination of limited funding and unlimited public need. Yet another reality of the public sector is that employees tend to be heavily burdened with administrative tasks.
It’s not just employees that are already familiar with technology, it’s citizens as well. The long slog through an antiquated system can result in more than just frustrated users. It can also mean employees are at risk of bearing the brunt of that frustration — without being able to do a thing to fix the problem. Add to that the stress of functioning in a crisis, and there are going to be wide-ranging impacts, including burnout and presenteeism — employees that are at their desks (virtual or not) but hardly even going through the motions. The less effective and responsive employees can be, the more futile they may feel it is to innovate or go the extra mile. Employees are human, after all.
Making Life Easier with Automation
Modernizing administration allows employees to free themselves from low-value administration and deal with more complex tasks. A recent Deloitte report on trends in government found that the public sector is catching onto the importance of customer experience, starting to treat citizens more like customers, and using automation and AI to improve CX.
Chatbots are an invaluable tool for the public sector — enabling people to have queries answered or information found right away as opposed to having to wait for the next available human. Further, they provide a primary source of data that can be used to gain key insights into what people need, generating analytics on the most frequent questions and topics that can lead to better decision-making about services and programs.
What it takes to be responsive, agile, and flexible in the public sector is the same as in every sector. Today’s organizations are optimized by a robust and centralized platform that provides sophisticated enterprise resource planning and people management tools, and can drive decision-making by a central source of data that’s gathered in real time, and increased control and visibility. Add to that an array of forecasting and budgeting tools to help plan for contingencies — which as we’ve seen so clearly in the past 14 months or so, are going to happen.
And in a very real way, an organization that can rely on its processes no matter the conditions or challenges it faces is going to present a consistent level of service that grows trust — between employees and the public as well as along all levels of the workplace. According to a recent research report in the UK on legacy systems in the public sector, 87% of those involved in IT planning say that continuing to rely on legacy systems increases security risks. It’s critical to be able to keep data secure and users safe.
The public sector’s evolution from a reliance on old and often siloed technologies to a modern and integrated digital platform has been a long time coming. Now the technologies are causing a second transformation in how employees view their work — from a pile of tasks to a network of solutions and services that better align with mission and purpose.