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The pandemic transformed our work and how we engage with our communities. 

How We Work

In 2020, many government agencies with a long history of in-person work shifted instead to remote work due to the unprecedented health challenges created by COVID-19. Employers (and employees) who had never considered work from home (WFH) found success. 

At the end of 2022 as masks and mandates began to feel like a thing of the past, Regional Government Services (RGS, a JPA that serves public clients) partnered with Probolsky Research to explore how pandemic-born practices stuck. The project included both employer and employee questionnaires sent to public agencies throughout California. 

The takeaway: California public workers and many managers see a bright future in hybrid work.

  • 77% of managers and 83% of employees say remote workers are more productive or maintain the same productivity as in-office workers.
  • 80% of employees say the impacts on team structure and organization culture from hybrid and remote work have been positive.
  • 92% of managers personally believe hybrid and remote work are here to stay.

Local governments are competing for talent in the same pool as businesses and flexibility has become currency. If public agencies want to find and retain strong employees, they need to consider offering a hybrid work experience and doing it well. Effective interpersonal communication skills, strong and equitable policy, streamlined and intuitive tools for collaboration, and management focus on outcomes are essential to ensuring the success of hybrid work.

The appetite for a more flexible work environment isn’t likely to fade.  Pre-pandemic, workers expressed a desire for better work-life balance, and many employees have fully embraced the work-life integration compelled by COVID.  As the workplace continues to evolve, it will be important for governments to adapt and apply new ways of working. As a public agency that has been remote since its inception in 2001, RGS knows working together goes far beyond sharing a building.  Our team was and is well poised to help other agencies put a strong foundation in place for hybrid work.  

While permanent WFH models can present challenges and anxieties, this approach also brings opportunities for local government agencies to engage with each other and the public in new and innovative ways.

How We Engage

Covid-19 challenged government communications professionals at all levels. Even those not in public health and those who are not communications professionals had to work on internal and external communications campaigns surrounding something that seemed like science fiction. There were some great learning opportunities. 

Clarity and brevity became pivotal. You could see the power of images and graphics in signage in storefronts. The role of trust in communication was never clearer. Aside from these thematic lessons, there were lots of logistics involved in continuing communication with our communities as many of us were WFH.

While government has largely lagged the private sector in digital engagement, the pandemic and social distancing requirements fueled some teams to get creative with tours, webinars, virtual meetings and more. Importantly, we’ve seen a shift with participation in governing body meetings.

Brown Act meeting requirements and shifting legislation has led government agencies to pivot back to in-person meetings, but many are opting (at significant cost) to increase hybrid capabilities beyond the bare minimum and here’s why:

  • More inclusive: With hybrid meetings and digital content, it is easier for people to participate in events from anywhere. People are busy – being able to quickly log in (perhaps as they WFH) has made it possible for local governments to reach a wider audience and engage with people who were not able to attend events when they were held in person.
  • Better engagement: Could people merely phone into a meeting? Yes, but they will be more engaged if they can view the meeting and a visual presentation. There are also lots of survey tools to monitor the temperature of the room.
  • Simpler to connect: Since remote meetings and digital content can be created quickly and easily, agencies can host more events and create more content to engage the public, leading to a more consistent and frequent flow of information.
  • On demand viewing: Hybrid meetings can be easily recorded and posted so that interested parties and community members can view when their schedule allows. This can also make it easier for staff who may want to revisit something discussed in the meeting.
  • Best of both worlds: While there may be a future for all-remote governing body meetings, given current law and the lingering appetite of some to be in person, hybrid allows local governments to offer everyone access to meeting attendance.

It is important to acknowledge that technological difficulties happen with expanded hybrid meetings, but technology also opens the door to a new world of possibilities. The technology will evolve, but let’s not wait for an unlikely “magic bullet” before we engage. Remote work and virtual engagement, like all things in life, require practice to perfect.