It has been over a year since the pandemic propelled over 75 percent of agencies to accelerate their digital transformation efforts in order to support an almost fully remote work environment. Last March, the Office of Management and Budget advised agencies to “maximize telework,” but did not provide further details to assist agencies on how to accomplish this daunting task. One year later, agencies have learned to manage telework and the various factors that go into creating a successful remote work environment.
Initially, some agencies struggled to accelerate their IT modernization efforts and find secure remote work solutions. New challenges arose (such as Zoom bombing), application threats surged by almost 20-fold across all levels of government, and agency IT teams found themselves battling an unfamiliar cyber landscape. It became increasingly important to find uncover gaps and find solutions to these problems quickly, since workers were leveraging personal networks and commercial off-the-self products that weren’t built with government in mind.
Once through the immediate flurry of ensuring every employee had basic necessities and access, agencies moved on to more mission critical activities. Now, agencies are fast-tracking their IT transformations and are continually improving their resiliency, agility, and scalability.
One example of this can be seen at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). “Things like telework, telehealth, tele-counseling, tele-hearings were always on our radar…but the COVID-19 pandemic really forced us into the future, probably by about five years,” said VA CIO Dominic Cussatt. With these advancements, the VA was able to adeptly find solutions that connected veterans to clinicians. In fact, the VA’s Secretary Denis McDonough said that “the agency averaged 45,000 telehealth visits a day this February, up from 2,500 a day last March before the pandemic.” The IT modernization efforts at the VA led the agency to scale up in order to serve those in need.
One year later, agencies have learned to adapt and improve upon their current environment quicker than anticipated. Agencies have shown their ability to be resilient in the face of unpredictable circumstances. However, the challenges aren’t over. The remote work environment has drastically changed the workforce and agencies will have to continue to accommodate issues that may arise as workers return to the office and establish new routines and require new solutions with a hybrid work environment.