Working from home looks set to stay for public sector employees

Many public sector employees look set to remain working from home for the long-term as a result of the pandemic. Public sector leaders reported that working from home is here to stay with almost half of those surveyed believing that 70 percent or more of their formerly office-based employees would be allowed to continue to work from home in some capacity.

Reasons given included “proof that working from home was more productive” and that it “allowed for a review of property use and the subsequent potential savings from reducing office space”.

The findings came from a survey questioning public sector leaders on the biggest challenges facing their UK IT teams during the pandemic. The independent research was commissioned by IGEL, provider of the next-gen edge OS for cloud workspaces, and undertaken by market researchers Question & Retain. 

Public sector challenges

Providing access to business critical applications and suitable computing devices were the biggest initial challenges facing UK public sector IT teams (33 percent), as employees rushed to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic; while 28 percent said it was providing suitable mobile computing devices to their now remote workforce.

Other significant challenges included broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity issues at employees’ homes. These issues were just one of a number of support problems that resulted in 60 percent of IT teams reporting an increase in end-user support as employees worked remotely. Of those, over a third saw up to 50 percent more end-user support requests, 6 percent up to 100 percent more, 12 percent up to 200 percent more and 6 percent up to 300 percent more support requests.

However, a third reported no noticeable change and 6 percent reported less support required than usual, likely to be as a result of furloughed staff.

As employees adjusted to the new work environment of home, there was never any doubt that IT helpdesk calls would see a significant rise. But this appears to be just one element of a much wider set of increased pressures on IT departments, post-pandemic.

In a separate study, 81 percent of technologists said Covid-19 had created the biggest technological pressure for their organizations that they had ever experienced, and 61 percent said they felt under more pressure at work than ever before. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of technologists said they were being asked to perform tasks and activities they had never done before.

As CIOs and their teams grapple with the challenges of an uncertain business environment, it will be important to reduce those support calls with the implementation of IT infrastructure that is intuitive for users, secure and can be centrally managed.

Priority technology investment

Investments in cloud (29 percent) and hardware (26 percent) were predicted to see the biggest spend increases over the next 12 months as organizations adjusted their IT infrastructure to reflect the new working culture, followed by security (13 percent) and virtual desktop Infrastructure (10 percent).

IT departments will have to find a balance over the coming months. They must ensure that the necessary cloud, security and hardware is in place to support the new distributed workforce and methods of working against a potential tightening financial backdrop.

But it’s interesting to note that some other international research has revealed that business leaders are still bullish about their IT investments. In a survey of 3,000 business leaders across the USA, UK, EU and Australia, they found the majority are planning to increase their investment in digital transformation.

There’s some nuance to dissect, including geographical variance, but the headline is that greater economic and market anxiety caused by COVID-19 is actually increasing digital transformation spending. The challenge will be delivering IT infrastructure that supports the new ways of working and helps transform the services delivered for the better.

Conclusions and considerations

Our research shows that public sector IT teams have been incredibly quick and versatile in adjusting to the requirements of the pandemic and successful in keeping vital public sector services operational. In less than a few months, work from home and remote working computing demands have gone beyond being simply desired, to becoming essential. The priority moving forward is to establish a resilient IT infrastructure to support the significant proportion of the workforce that will continue operating remotely. Large, distributed workforces and the resulting trend towards widespread cloud migration is transforming how the public sector manages and secures endpoints, fueling demand for virtual apps, desktops and cloud workspaces.

For many organizations, the move to a distributed workforce was an enormous initial jolt but as the workforce and systems settle to a new way of working there will be time to consider the opportunities in the new approach to working.

As well as the technology needs of a distributed workforce, business and IT leaders can now consider the implications for their real estate. There may be opportunities to rationalize office space and make financial savings.

Business leaders will also need to consider the impact working away from a centralized office will have on staff work patterns and the different support they may need to provide users. Microsoft, for example, has reported analyzing the changing work patterns of staff since they began working from home and found some startling changes in behavior. The analysis looked at aggregated, de-identified email, calendar, and IM metadata. They compared it with metadata from a prior time period and invited colleagues to share their thoughts.

The data revealed that workers’ days are getting longer, by around four hours extra per week on average as they carved out pockets of personal time during the day. To accommodate these breaks, people were signing into work earlier and/or signing off later.

A new ‘night shift’ had also developed with employees catching up on work and communications more during the evening. They also saw the rise of the 30-minute meeting. While weekly meeting time increased by 10 percent overall, meetings actually shrank in duration. Microsoft saw 22 percent more meetings of 30 minutes or less and 11 percent fewer meetings of more than one hour.

Facilitated by a flexible IT infrastructure

Whatever the long-term impact on our work behaviors and the opportunities that arise, they can only be capitalized on with a robust flexible working IT infrastructure that can support them.  Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and cloud workspace could be that solution. It can be an effective migration pathway to leapfrog to the latest technology platforms and enable workforce flexibility with centralized management and increased levels of security.

Simon Townsend, chief marketing officer, IGEL

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