Over the last two weeks, thousands of municipalities have worked hard to determine the best mode of operation while ensuring employees’ safety from COVID-19. Some states like Michigan are still asking critical infrastructure workers to come into the office. In other states, like Texas, local governments have been given full autonomy on how to best proceed with an office closing.
In Schaumburg, IL, Daniel Wyskochil, a Business Process Analyst for the municipality, says the Village Hall is currently closed to the general public and they are continuing to operate to provide essential services to the community. He credits organizational leadership for doing a great job empowering management staff to enable degrees of remote work before any official Government mandates were initiated.
"The Schaumburg organization was well prepared due to consistent Emergency Operations drills and Disaster Recovery plans that are established for all departments, as well as a robust tech infrastructure," said Daniel. "Employee roles that are able to function with a varied degree of remote work are doing so on either a full-time basis or on rotation to limit social exposure."
For Schaumburg, and other municipalities that have embraced paperless systems previously, the transition to working remotely has been smooth. Eric Grossman is the County Assessor at the Tippecanoe County Government where he says online filing systems via Kofile, and the ability to remote access Windows-based applications, made the two-week move to remote fairly painless.
“As expected, there were various logistical problems: not enough modern laptops, primitive call forwarding options and lack of IT permissions for non-exempt employees to work remotely, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome!”
In general, this unprecedented wave of government employees being asked to work remotely has posed a unique set of challenges. So far, local governments have risen to the challenge, working fast to build new systems, embrace a new normal and secure quick wins wherever possible.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Regardless of how far along your agency is with transitioning to remote work, there are some forms and processes you can set up to maintain the efficacy and efficiency of your staff, and make it possible for citizens and local businesses to continue to do business with your government.
In this article we’ll touch on a few general best practices for telework, then focus on how government agencies can leverage online services to maintain “business as usual” even if the physical office is closed.
General Work From Home Tips for Government Agencies
There are no shortage of articles on the web about employees shifting to a telework or work from home environment. If you’re looking for general best practices on providing employees with a secure work environment at home, The Department of Homeland Security has a comprehensive list of tips.
Daniel from Schaumburg shared some details on their move to remote, saying, "Most important for remote work was the use of VPNs, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), and video teleconference software to provide a consistent, effective work environment. Additionally, leveraging our telecommunication system’s soft phone and mobile forwarding functionalities enabled remote workers to place and receive phone calls to/from their designated workstation phone numbers. This method aided in mitigating confusion regarding the “correct” method of contact and allowed for a familiar communication “feel” across the organization."
And I published a more lighthearted article on working from home best practices when Kofile switched to a work from home policy: Work from home tips.
Make Your Internal Forms Digital (Just like Your Workforce)
When your agency makes the decision to offer the option to work remotely (or in the case they’re ordered to work from home) there are a number of forms that should be digitized immediately.
Work from Home Survey, Telework Request, Telecommute Agreement
Just because agencies have had to move quickly to enable a work from home policy, doesn't mean they can skirt protocol. Collecting information on who will be working remote, and ensuring that information is captured for future record keeping is still vital.
Luann Hunt, Communications & Marketing Coordinator for Lynchburg, VA, said a 'Working from Home - COL Employee Survey' was the first form their team created. It helped the city’s Strategic Management Team for COVID-19 get the big picture view of who could work from home, if the need arose.
“The Strategic Management Team for COVID-19 is made up of the Communications & Marketing Director, and directors from Emergency Services, Fire, Police, HR, Finance and other staff from the City Manager’s office,” said Hunt. “We created a work from home survey template and duplicated that form for every department (about 20). The survey had over 400 responses, from which we learned that about 80% of respondents could work from home. From this data we had a very clear understanding of what it would mean when it came time for Bonnie Svreck, our City Manager, to make the decision to send people home to work.”
Timesheets, Time Trackers
Forms for time tracking are also essential. In extraordinary circumstances, like the coronavirus pandemic, many municipalities are uncertain what expenses they can be federally reimbursed for, so they are asking employees to record everything. For this many agencies have created a COVID-19 time tracker sheet, which can be used to input data for a FEMA 214 form.
This is an example of a FEMA 214 form created in GovOS Studio.
Resource request forms and procurement forms make it easier for employees to get equipment they might need to complete their job outside the office. This could be as simple as more envelopes, or something more complex as a second monitor. Digitized resource request forms make it easier for requests to be submitted and approved and get employees what they need to be effective.
Human Resources (HR) Forms
HR is one of the most important departments that needs to maintain functionality while the team is remote. Some key HR forms that should be digitized include:
- FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) Applications - digitizing these forms ensures timely submission and approvals so employees can take leave as needed, especially if that leave is unexpected.
- Voluntary Quarantine Agreement - a form most probably hadn’t thought of until two weeks ago can be added to a growing list of HR-related forms that should be available.
- A for for anonymous questions - employees will undoubtedly have questions, and may feel more comfortable asking those anonymously.
All of these form types can very easily be created to collect submissions and route them through to HR.
Digitize External Forms for Clear Communication
On the other side of the remote work coin are citizen interactions with staff. Where offices are closed, it’s impossible for citizens to drop off or even mail in forms to conduct business. And especially in the face of our current pandemic, there are a lot of citizens looking to their local government to provide guidance on how they can contribute.
In a previous article we shared how government agencies are sharing coronavirus updates with citizens and employees. Let’s take a look at some of the forms these agencies are creating to facilitate communication and transactions.
There are a lot of people right now who want to help, but aren’t sure where to start or who to engage with. If your municipality is directing volunteers within the community, create a form for them to securely submit their contact information.
Our partners in West Hartford created this volunteer form for citizens.
And don’t forget that there are major life events still happening in the midst of all this craziness. Consider bringing forms like marriage applications online (example) so happy couples can apply from home and then go back to watching Netflix.
Business owners are understandably looking to their local government for a steady hand during these challenging times. California alone estimates that nearly 30,000 restaurants will close permanently.
External forms can be used to offer businesses guidance on which businesses are allowed to continue operating under quarantine. For example, Alachua County in Florida created a form for businesses to request a designation as an “essential business for purposes of emergency. This makes it easy for governments to eliminate confusion and establish an orderly process for granting permission to businesses to stay open or close.
Business forms might also be useful in the future as federal relief aid becomes more readily available.
Perhaps one of the most important daily functions that agencies still conduct in-person is accepting payments. There are a growing number of municipalities that have switched to digital payments to make life easier for citizens and staff. Yet there are still some departments that rely heavily on in-person payments.
In a world where social distancing is the new normal, and government offices are closed, agencies are left to choose between digital payments or no payments at all. Perhaps hardest hit by this change are building, planning and zoning departments who rely heavily on over-the-counter exchanges for plans, applications, permits and payments.
I'd be remiss not to mention that GovOS offers a payments feature that can enable online payments through 70 different payment portals. Whether you're a GovOS user or not, we can help get this functionality up-and-running in a day and make it easier for your citizens to pay online, and for your staff to accept and process monetary transactions.