Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Interview with Sherri Greenberg

In Fall-Winter 2020, the IBM Center for The Business of Government initiated a Challenge Grant Competition soliciting essays from academics and practitioners describing how government can best transform the way it works, operates, and delivers services to the public given the impact of this pandemic.

  • How are local governments using remote and hybrid working arrangements?
  • How will local government operations and management change in a post pandemic environment?
  • What key questions do government executives need to ask to meet the demands of a post pandemic time?

Sherri Greenberg, contributor to the IBM Center Special Report, COVID-19 and Its Impact: Seven Essays on Reframing Government Management and Operations, joined me on The Business of Government Hour to explore these questions and more. Here is a excerpt of our conversation highlighting some of her key insights.

Local government is at the core of people’s lives, and it can, and should, serve as a model workplace for the future of work. During the COVID-19 pandemic, local government workplace issues surfaced that present many serious questions for how local governments will work and operate. What do topics do these questions encompass?  

I think about COVID‑19 impact on the future of work in local government in two ways: how it has affected those who work in government and for those who are served and interface with government. For those that work within government the key questions involve who, what, when, where, why and how.   What services do we need to deliver? Who will do what? How can we deliver services differently? How will we hire and evaluate people? When will we train people? Where will local government staff work (e.g., remote or on-site)? How much office space will we need and how will it be configured?  Will we have hybrid work environments?  What will this mean for people who continue to work out in the field?  These are internal questions that go to the core of the management and operations of local government. 

The external issues that surface regarding the future of work in local government include rethinking and redesigning urban spaces. What does the public square look like?  What does this mean for zoning for parks, for transportation, or for parking?  Will we not need as much parking?  Will people be working remotely or in some hybrid arrangement?  How will commuter patterns change? What are the implications for public spaces if social distancing continues? 

Are remote and hybrid working arrangements here to stay? How does this shift in how work is done impact planning within the local government workplaces?

This is an important question. Some form of remote work arrangements is here to stay. There is no indication that work arrangements will go back to pre-pandemic days. Whether one works remotely or not will likely depend on the work being performed. The recent power outages illustrate that those who work electric lines or first-responders, front-line healthcare workers, or those stocking grocery store shelves will continue to work either by choice or necessity outside the home. But it may not be an either/or situation. It may be more of a combination of work arrangements, a hybrid work environment. These changes will impact workspace planning, commercial real estate in downtown areas, and commuting patterns involving parking and public transportation use. Along with these issues, local governments are dealing with the dearth of affordable housing options. We continue to see this imbalance with demand and supply in housing. This pandemic has only exacerbated the situation making it an ever-pressing issue for local governments.

How has the pandemic accelerated changes that were already under way in many local governments?

With pandemic related shutdowns, we went from a largely in-person to a virtual world overnight. Suddenly, the pandemic shifted many local government workforces to move entirely to telework. This accelerated numerous changes in local government operations, processes, and service delivery such as remote services, online services, and curbside and delivery services. Furthermore, with COVID-19, there have been huge shifts in how services are delivered, such as many providers in public health and healthcare changing to predominantly using telemedicine and telephonic medicine. However, local governments have found that some residents cannot participate in these new service delivery modes, without access to high-speed internet. Access to the virtual world relies on access to universal broadband – that connectivity to the internet.

Likewise, the pandemic accelerated the adoption and implementation of new technologies in local governments, such as artificial intelligence (AI), which require policy direction, new positions, and employee training in areas from algorithm bias, to working via Zoom, to providing broadband and device access. AI has the possibility to make local government jobs more effective, efficient, and rewarding by replacing rote work with more interesting work.

Are there any other recommendations or insights you would like to share?

First and foremost, local governments must not wait but get out in front of challenges arising from the pandemic.  For example, cybersecurity has been a major issue for local governments for some time.  Local governments must ensure that they have the most effective cybersecurity in place that they can. Cyber threats put at risk the personal information of residents and critical local infrastructure as well. Cybersecurity is key given many local government workers are doing their work virtually, which puts their IT assets in jeopardy.  Securing networks and devices are critical for all governments including local governments. Along with cybersecurity, it is key for local governments to focus on workforce training. In many cases, local governments engage with employers, community colleges, and others in workforce training. The pandemic has prompted changes in education and workforce training to provide a pipeline of employees in the jobs of the future. It will require retraining and continuing education with a mindset and expectation of adapting to change.

Local governments do not have to go it alone. Some communities are beginning to convening residents and their business community to begin a dialogue and develop joint solutions for what they want their futures to look like. For example, the Port of Los Angeles has established a Blue-Ribbon Commission on the Future of Work. This is a big opportunity to see our local governments working together across metropolitan areas. Several state governments also have developed task forces or commissions that might serve as models for community-based initiatives. For example, the State of Washington’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board has created a Future of Work Task Force.  Also, local governments in rural areas and Council of Governments (COGs) could form collaborations to tackle future of work issues. Additionally, the International City/County Managers Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors could form specific future of work task forces like The Council of State Government’s Future of Work Task Force. These are very important opportunities for us to work together.

Complete Interview: https://bit.ly/3uMhNOa

Special Report: https://bit.ly/31wC8Kv