The unlikely equaliser: how IT enables better work-life balance in the public sector
While their scope of influence tends to focus on the technical or digital aspects of operations, IT teams can do so much more. Particularly in government agencies, where technology is essential for service delivery, policy enforcement and workforce enablement, IT teams have the opportunity to collaborate with management and HR to enable a better work-life balance for both remote and hybrid employees.
Why would IT pros want to champion this cause? I can see two reasons. Firstly, better work-life balance results in fewer after-hours support requests characteristic of a remote workforce, making for happier and less burned-out IT employees. Secondly, it provides IT the rare chance to contribute to organisational culture, improving their value in the eyes of leadership and giving IT leaders more influence at the decision-making table.
Of course, IT teams could ignore this cause, but why would they? A better work-life balance means a well-rested and efficient workforce for both the larger organisation and IT. Below are some ways IT teams can enable this win-win situation at their public agencies.
What IT teams can influence directly
When making IT purchasing decisions, consider technologies or applications facilitating a better work-life balance or flexible work arrangements. More specifically, look beyond merely the technical aspects and think about how remote or hybrid employees would use specific solutions — and how it will help them work more efficiently, more smoothly and with peace of mind.
IT teams can provide the following technological solutions for remote or hybrid employees to immediately improve their quality of life:
- Greater privacy and screen security: Public sector employees handle increasingly sensitive federal or citizen data in their daily tasks, making remote work — whether done from the kitchen counter or a public cafe — extremely risky. Providing privacy screens or a ‘boss key’ program allows remote employees to work without glancing nervously over their shoulder every minute.
- Invest in dedicated virtual private network (VPN) routers: These devices create a separate work network providing secure connections to agency networks when used with a dedicated VPN connection. Besides eliminating vectors of attack, IT teams can also monitor 24/7 network usage via these routers, giving them, HR and management vital data on whether employees are overworking and risking burning out.
- Leverage user or multi-factor authentication (MFA): The use of MFA significantly improves security and reduces the risk of external breaches while giving legitimate remote employees easy access to data and tools they need to do their job with minimal stress or hassle.
- Maintain separate communication channels: This is a simple point, but one not many organisations follow. Creating separate chat rooms for professional work and off-hours chat is crucial — the former enables efficient communication and the latter allows the building of camaraderie and essential human interaction.
How IT and HR can work hand in hand
The most significant impact on work-life balance in public agencies comes from a close collaboration between IT and HR teams. Combining both technology and work policies results in far more holistic outcomes for a remote or hybrid workforce due to the way both complement each other.
Some ideas for IT/HR work-life balance initiatives include:
- Initiating ‘blackout’ periods outside of business hours: IT teams can help enforce HR after-hours work policies by restricting access to critical work systems or data within a set timeframe (before 7 am and after 5 pm, for example), encouraging the public workforce to settle matters during work hours and properly switch off after.
- Enable scheduled ‘power naps’ outside of core work hours: Remote employees can quickly lose track of time, so it’s essential to remind people to take breaks after a long stretch of work. IT teams can work with HR reps to program reminders of work breaks or power naps into employee systems, ensuring employees get some time to recharge and refresh.
- Provisioning for ergonomic remote workstations: It’s cost-prohibitive and irresponsible to use public funds to provide desks and chairs for every remote employee, but IT teams can work with HR to provision an additional monitor, keyboard or sound system to ensure ergonomic wellbeing for employees.
Establish these solutions for the long haul
Some organisations have accepted the fact remote or hybrid work is here to stay in some shape or form — and have begun making adjustments for this new reality. Public sector agencies would be wise to do the same. Besides the obvious steps of improving the business network and heightening security, agencies should strive to ensure the above solutions become the norm.
This means measuring the effectiveness of these solutions on employee productivity and happiness, then making the case to management for additional resources or budget. Taking the cultural approach and collaborating with HR improves the impact and odds of success for these initiatives. The result? A satisfied remote or hybrid workforce with reduced turnover and more attentive, quality service to the public citizenry.
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