The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been far-reaching within the Federal government – not only requiring agencies to shift services online, but also to enable employees to work from home en masse.

On an ATARC webinar July 1, Federal officials discussed how they are relying on IT modernization to ensure that the workforce remains able to deliver on the agency missions, and how for many that equation has boiled down to increased use of cloud services.

“SBA has been really, really maximizing our usage of technology in the cloud in order to keep our team up and working when we can’t be in our buildings,” said Bill Hunt, chief enterprise architect at the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Gerald Caron, acting director of the Enterprise Network Management Office at the Department of State, agreed that cloud has “played a huge role” in shifting to telework. Caron credited the department’s use of cloud to allow it to achieve a peak 93 percent employee telework rate. He said there has been “a lot of behind the scenes work” to adapt to the new technologies and scale infrastructure, and that, “We were able to keep the department’s mission moving forward in a very unique time in a very short period of time.”

Hunt also addressed the major role SBA has played in the Federal response to COVID-19.

“Many people don’t know that SBA is a bank,” he remarked, while explaining that Congress tasked SBA with managing hundreds of billions of dollars in small business loans and grants. To meet the pandemic emergency, Hunt said SBA has “been scaling up our team significantly,” and added 5,000 new employees in “a few short weeks.”

Caron also addressed the unique challenges State has faced amid the pandemic. Not only does the State Department have U.S.-based offices, but it operates embassies all over the world. Caron said this posed a unique challenge as each country has been impacted and reacted to COVID-19 differently.

He said that while State has been trying to do a lot of training in the cloud, “when people were in the office, they weren’t using it the same way as when they were teleworking.” This has led to “lots of training on the fly to get people to leverage the tools in a more collaborative fashion,” he said.

Hunt pivoted back to the importance of the workforce in mobile work. “The other side of this isn’t technology, it’s culture,” he said. He stressed the importance of having a remote-first culture, and that building your team around collaboration is “really critical” to success.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.