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Zooming into the Cultural Considerations of Remote Work

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Elaine Ahumada & Adrian P. Stevens
February 10, 2023

Attracting and retaining talent in the public sector is a challenge. Voluntary turnover has also increased as remote requirements are lifting in the public sector. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for August 2022, the government sector experienced the worst job fill rate from July 2021 through August 2022. Approximately four out of ten jobs posted were filled with talent. As leaders progress into 2023, with vacancies remaining from 2022, innovation should be at the forefront of addressing the sector’s labor gap. If organizations continue to run lean from burdening existing talent, employee burnout will be the result.

“Remote work could never work in our institution.” This comment reflects the notion that remote and hybrid work will be avoided based on an organization’s culture. The belief is that, somehow, an organization’s culture will override the new work environment requirements of the individual since COVID. This view is shortsighted, requiring a thorough consideration of the future implications of this decision. The issue is not that remote work is causing a lack of accountability or efficiency but is reflective of a misalignment of the organizational cultural values and remote policies. External relations positions within the public sector require consistent and frequent out-of-the-office interactions with constituents. Much of the work is done off-site, via Zoom and email exchanges, requiring minimal office presence. Remote policies requiring four days in the office result in staff reporting a lack of work-life balance. This culture-policy imbalance is a model ready to fail and requires consideration towards a realignment that meets the needs of the organization and the employees.

While not every leader may ascribe to remote work as a viable option for themselves, leaders must recognize the generational mind shift among employees who value remote work options. Many leadership concerns are about maintaining staff engagement, cohesion and trust while acknowledging the demands of the post-COVID work environment, especially for Millennial and Gen Z employees. The youngest generation of the workforce state that pre-COVID work environment conditions will not provide the level of satisfaction or retention required by most organizations. Remote work, hybrid schedules and virtual home offices have become mainstream for many private and non-profit organizations.

Remote work is here to stay. Andrea Zeilman and John D. Tigert state that Millennial and Gen Z typically stay in roles for a comparatively shorter length of time than Gen X and Boomer employees. Moreover, it is more challenging to leave a role after just a year or two if it means giving up a more flexible work environment. Remote work makes it difficult to contemplate returning to an office, as seen in 2021 and 2022’s Great Resignation.

Employees with self-accountability and integrity are now seeking more flexibility in their careers. COVID evidenced that productivity, job satisfaction and motivation may be at higher levels within an organization when conducting work with the flexibility of remote options.

According to Flexjobs 58 percent of people seek remote options when looking for a job. Flexjobs and Indeed are listing public sector jobs with remote options. Although, many public organizations are reluctant to follow the lead of others within the sector, which speaks to leadership needing to adapt to this new paradigm.

Employees who hold a level of responsibility through autonomous duties that metrics and measurable outcomes can evidence are often positions that involve and require multiple meetings, work with databases, spreadsheets, data entry, writing and research. These positions attract professional high-talent employees. Productivity, happiness and motivation are evident at these higher levels with remote options.

Leaders who may believe that the flexibility of remote work translates into less community, less production and less motivation are losing sight of the opportunities to fill essential positions with highly qualified talent from around the nation. Also, organizational goals, diversity initiatives and employee wellness can be achievable outcomes. Organizational leaders with keen insight ponder the advantages of offering remote work. Assessing duties and evaluating and weighing potential benefits remote work can provide for efficiency and effectiveness outcomes is critical in determining what positions can avail the organization and the individual. In addition, money savings not spent on rehiring, training and infrastructure pay for themselves over time. People seeking employment now have more options for a better work-life balance that contributes to mental well-being and productivity.

Leaders must recognize that employees are investments. Human capital has a price, and attracting excellence requires innovation, flexibility and positivity. Paying attention to how employees work best, manage time and execute responsibilities can result in higher efficiencies from happy employees. The keys to greater staff satisfaction, especially amongst future generations, are a balanced org culture, professional development opportunities and wellness considerations. If a leader asks an employee what can make one’s job better, and the answer is “remote work,” the leader should take heed. The employee may be seeking a new opportunity to zoom right out of the organization into a more progressive and evolved organization, if the answer is “no, remote work is not part of our culture.”

Author: Elaine Ahumada, DPA – Dr. Elaine Ahumada has been teaching Public Administration and Public Policy courses over the past twenty years. She is the Director of the Doctoral Program in Public Administration at California Baptist University and has extensive practitioner experience in non-profit consulting and serving on boards for regional non-profits in Southern California. [email protected]

Author: Adrian Paul Stevens, DPA – Dr. Adrian Paul Stevens has nearly 28 years of experience engaging individual donors, corporations, and foundations with a tailored approach to philanthropic giving. Most of his career has been in higher education advancement and consulting. He is also an adjunct professor of Public Administration and Business Management. [email protected]

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