Just about everything related to the ways we are used to working has changed. These new ways of working are forcing us to pivot how we retain and develop our current employees in an environment where uncertainty and change are the norm. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the crucial role that public sector workers play in everyday activities has become increasingly transparent – providing critical public services when they are needed the most. The evolution that we are seeing today continues to shift organizational priorities toward focusing on people and bringing the employee experience to the forefront in the public sector.
The New Working Experience
The global impact of COVID-19, and the necessity to work remotely is likely to forever change the public. Globally, it is projected that $7+ trillion will be invested in making work more digital by 2023 (KPMG, Virtual Work Enablement). The “new reality” isn’t necessarily a world without working in an office or the field; it’s just a world where we focus on the work instead of where it’s being performed. This has been a big shift for public sector employees: since the start of the pandemic, the percentage of employees who are working remotely in some capacity has jumped from 18 percent to 74 percent.1 Employees who have spent their entire career going into the office every day are now trying to navigate a completely new, and often isolating, way of working.
However, early research indicates that working from home is actually a welcomed change for most Americans. A report surveying approximately 1,500 U.S. adults, both current remote workers as well as adults who were able to work remotely either now or in a future role, found that nearly 70 percent of workers reported that they had had significant changes in their daily routines because of working from home, but overall were pleased with the changes. For most Americans, the increased time and comfort from working from home outweigh the disadvantages. In fact, 75 percent of survey respondents said that they would like to work from home at least once or twice weekly, even after their offices reopen.2
Although most employees seem to be adjusting nicely, there are significant challenges that accompany remote working. KPMG’s American worker pulse survey found that many employees are discovering new challenges with the completely remote model.3
Despite feeling prepared to transition, many are finding it difficult to adjust to the new normal.
Say their job is more demanding now
Say finding a work-life balance is difficult
Say their mental health has worsened
Say they find work to be overwhelming
Parents are having an especially hard time adjusting
Say finding work-life balance is difficult
Say their job is more demanding now
Find work to be overwhelming
The demands of working in this new virtual environment have also taken a toll on worker productivity. Despite the benefits of working from home, and the technologies enabling workers to do so, 46 percent of workers indicated that their level of productivity has worsened.3 The increased use of new technologies may be leading to communication overload, where employees are having a hard time balancing the increased volume of emails and chats with their work.
How much communication are we talking about? An example: Communication between Montgomery County, Maryland divisions has “skyrocketed” during the quarantine, according to data collected based on usage of Microsoft’s Teams and Skype software. Prior to the pandemic, employees were sending about 1,000 private chats a day. By the end of May, though, county workers were exchanging more than 18,000 chats and 1,000 video calls daily.4
While these tools enhance an employee’s ability to work remotely, they could also further blur the line between work and home and create a sense of always having to be available among employees. Clearly, a one-size-fits all approach will not work when coming up with a long-term strategy to keeping the morale and productivity of your workforce high. So, what’s the right way to engage with your workforce in this virtual environment?
Focusing on the Employee Experience
The KPMG American worker pulse survey found that employees who said they feel valued by their company were more likely to report success transitioning to a virtual working model.3 However, making employees feel valued in a virtual environment can be challenging. In order to demonstrate commitment to employees, organizations need to be intentional about how they are revamping the employee experience, starting with onboarding and spanning to ongoing career development. Rethinking simple yet important benefits such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), flexible work schedules, and employee development programs will help employees feel more valued and will better position organizations to retain a dedicated and loyal workforce.
Offering benefits such as an EAP can help the wellbeing of your workforce as they adjust to their new normal. In 2018, a survey found that federal employees who are part of programs designed to encourage work-life balance are more likely to exceed expectations and better advance their agency’s mission.5 Now, more than ever, it is critical that employees have access to an EAP so they can take advantage of benefits such as free counseling sessions, mindfulness and meditation tools, and online resources about mental health. Implementing these programs and educating employees about the benefits available to them may help address some of the emotional impacts of remote working.
Given that 53 percent of American workers say that their mental health has declined since starting to work remotely, it is also important to offer more flexibility in work schedules so that employees can fully disconnect from work when needed.3 Encouraging your employees to embrace the new flexibility that inevitably accompanies remote work starts at the top. For example, a Deputy Manager for Eagle County in Colorado noted that many of the technology and engagement solutions that have come from the current situation will continue. He says that “moving forward, I know that myself and the other county managers here are going to keep role-modeling this. I only plan on working in the office two to three days a week. The business community has had this figured out for a while now, and government needs to adapt.”6
In addition to supporting the wellbeing of your employees, organizations should begin to think more critically about career pathing and development opportunities for employees. This starts with the onboarding experience, and is especially important for younger, less tenured employees who are now trying to learn ‘on the job’ while offsite. Creating programs focused on mentoring and apprenticeship to build expertise will help them quickly create connections and begin to add value to the organization. Developing your tenured employees will also require some creativity as the traditional in-person training model has quickly become outdated. Finding innovative ways to keep your employees engaged not only helps them find purpose and connection to their work, but can also be an effective way to re-skill employees for the fast-pace change taking place in the public sector.
The Bottom Line:
It is critical to consider the longer-term strategic approach to managing the workforce, to ensure they capitalize on investment and improvements made over the last six months in flexible working options. As we start to consider options for working flexibly, not just remotely, there are a few elements to think about:
- Effective ways of working
- Priority groups that need to return to the office
- Health and well-being, remote and back in the office
- Work scheduling
- Remote work policies and compliance monitoring
- Leadership role modeling of desired behaviors
- Employee engagement and experience
- Facilities and workplace
As you think about how to engage with your workforce in the now normal reality, we’re here to help. Having worked with government organizations for more than 100 years, KPMG understands how to help modernize your business operations, creating positive change that benefits government workers, citizens, and communities.
- Survey Results: Public Sector Employee Views on Finances and Employment Outlook Due to COVID-19. Center for State & Local Government Excellence, June 2020.
- Mananetti, Zoe. The Pandemic Has Permanently Changed the Way We Work. The Governing, July 2020.
- The American Worker Pulse Survey. KPMG, April 2020.
- Johnston, Ryan. Local Governments Find Remote Work to Be 'Starting over' Point. StateScoop, June 2020.
- Wagner, Erich. “Feds in Work-Life Programs Perform Better at Their Jobs, Survey Says.” Government Executive, Government Executive, 19 Mar. 2019.
- How COVID-19 Is Changing How State and Local Governments Approach Technology. Government Technology State & Local Articles - E.Republic.