Anywhere, Everywhere: Integrating Your Virtual Workplace
The Accenture Federal Technology Vision looks at five technology trends likely to have the most significant impact on how government operates over the next three years. Today, we look at Trend 4: Anywhere, Everywhere, considering the implications of virtual work patterns across the Federal space.
The COVID-inspired rush to remote work was a vast upheaval on traditional work patterns. An Accenture survey within the report found that 79 percent of Federal executives called it the largest and fastest human behavioral change in history. While some viewed it as a short-term situation, forward-looking agencies are considering this disruption as an opportunity to drive lasting change, empowering employees in new ways while creating a more agile workforce overall.
The reality is that the hybrid workplace with virtual workers is here to stay. Employees have spent a year experiencing the flexibility and benefits of working from home and elsewhere; many are now reluctant to return to traditional office environments. Likewise, many agencies have discovered that large-scale remote work can reduce energy, facility, and commute costs, and boost employee productivity. For employees, the future workplace may be pre-COVID offices, but for some, it may be 100 percent remote. Still others may want a mix of options, supporting a new “work-from-anywhere” culture.
We are moving into a future where work can be done from anywhere. To make the most of the opportunities this presents, government agencies need to rethink their organizational structures. They need to consider what can be achieved with a virtualized workforce model and pursue cultural change to bring that vision to life.
The Rise of BYOE
When telework and related “bring your own device” policies were first introduced to the working world, employees could connect remotely with their work, but their personal lives stayed essentially private and independent. In today’s world, the integration is more immersive, stripping away layers of that privacy and independence, but also providing new freedoms and opportunities as well.
What we found in Trend 4: Anywhere, Everywhere is that many employees are combining their personal and professional lives into a single environment that supports both their home and work life – what we’re calling “bring your own environment,” or BYOE. Within this environment, children’s homework may encroach on the traditional workday, and the vulnerabilities of home networks are becoming enterprise concerns. Still, employees can and are becoming more productive, engaged, and committed to their careers.
The Accenture Federal Technology Vision found that 87 percent of Federal executives agree that leading organizations are shifting towards BYOE, leveraging cultural changes to drive productivity and enhance employee satisfaction and engagement. To start, agency leaders may need to reassess the size and function of the physical office. Successful organizations will resist the urge to race everyone back to the office in favor of taking the time to rethink their workforce model in alignment with the future of work or new ways of working. Here are some keys:
- Big, rapid change is doable. Agencies have found they are nimbler than they might have thought. COVID showed that workers equipped with the right tools could quickly and effectively determine how to achieve their mission objectives in a virtual work setting.
- It’s time to re-imagine traditional work structures. News flash: In many cases, a physical presence isn’t necessarily required. And the standard eight-hour shift may not be optimal for everyone. In fact, many Federal leaders found that moving to a remote work model yielded improved productivity compared to pre-pandemic outputs.
- Long-term success requires stakeholder engagement. The long-term rise of virtual work will affect everything from job descriptions and performance appraisals to interoffice communications and recruiting. Agency managers will need to engage their many stakeholders, including Federal unions, to re-calibrate workplace policies and practices to support a culture shift that recognizes and embraces alternate work modes.
New Model, New Culture
The implications of shifting to a hybrid workplace with more virtual workers run deep. For example, BYOE promises to be a boon for recruitment, with a more national focus widening the available labor pool. Accenture found that 87 percent of Federal executives believe the remote workforce opens the market for difficult-to-find talent.
Agencies will also need to reconsider the employee experience. At minimum, workers will need to be provisioned with the technology they require to be productive and successful remotely. Private networks, telework tools, and training, for example, all will need to be reassessed and upgraded in support of virtual work. Many IT services and capabilities will have to be made available in a self-service model.
When workers were in the office, it was also easier to spot emerging problems. With BYOE as the new future, the employee experience is more important than ever, but it can be obscured behind miles of distance, shifted schedules, and potentially disparate time zones. Agencies will need to enable managers to lead in this environment, learning to trust remote workers while maintaining a leveled playing field regardless of one’s location. At the same time, managers should be taking intentional steps to foster collaboration, team building, and trust across disparate workers and virtual work teams.
Perhaps most significant, the rise and acceptance of virtual work in the private sector means government will have to pivot towards BYOE and a flexible workplace to remain an employer of choice. On the upside: If agencies can shift, the government will continue to attract and retain top talent in the increasingly competitive virtual worker environment.