During the height of the pandemic, mandatory social distancing required state and local agencies to implement virtual services to keep the wheels of government turning. Unfortunately, due to lack of adequate funding and mad scramble to implement, many stop-gap solutions were hastily rolled out for delivering virtual appointments, assessments, and hearings with the expectation that, at some point, work would return to the way it was before the pandemic. But we now understand that a new normal has been ushered in. The past couple years have also demonstrated the benefits of a hybrid work model for employees, citizens and agency operations.
Communications technology is at the heart of virtual interactions with the public. Many people would like to continue receiving services from agencies without having to physically enter an office or courtroom. So, it’s time to assess whether your current technology can provide long-term, high-quality experiences. Success depends on the ability of all parties to be clearly seen and heard.
If your current technology can’t meet the public’s expectations, it’s time to upgrade. And, if you’re like 82 percent of the participants in the NASCIO 2021 State CIO survey, you didn’t get a budget increase to address these new needs. That challenge is understandable, but there are three major reasons why this is still the right time to upgrade your technology.
EMPLOYEES EXPECT FLEXIBILITY WHILE CITIZENS EXPECT EASE
Like other industries, the public sector is struggling with the Great Resignation. Employees who believe remote and hybrid work provide a better work/life balance, not to mention a tight labor market, make replacing those who leave difficult. The NASCIO survey reported that 86 percent of participants expected to continue remote work as a regular, rather than an occasional, occurrence.
This challenge is compounded when you consider the professionals who leave the sector permanently for things like a career change or retirement. A survey from MissionSquare Research Institute, which studies government workforce issues, found that 52 percent of state and local public sector workers are considering changing jobs, retiring or leaving the workforce entirely. When the quality of your services depends on the quality of your staff, it’s essential to make it easy for your team to deliver excellent virtual services no matter where they’re working.
From the citizens’ perspective, virtual services offer more convenience and better access. Research from RockSolid, the Center for Digital Government and Engaging Local Government Leaders, found that 62 percent of people like to reach for a smartphone, tablet or computer to connect with their local government. This level of demand is tough to meet, but to satisfy your community, virtual services must be easy to use and effective.
Virtual services can improve agency operations by extending access to people who, for one reason or another, can’t make it into an office. They also empower you to serve more people without adding staff. All this lacks, however, is clear communication. The key to services that streamline operations and help, rather than frustrate, is communication equity. Employees and clients alike want those in and outside of the room to feel their conversations are happening on equal footing.
ONCE-IN-A-GENERATION FUNDING IS ON THE TABLE
Maybe it’s not the apparent need for a technology upgrade that holds you back. Maybe it’s the lack of funding to make it possible. The good news is that there’s an unprecedented amount of funding available to state and local agencies. Initially, the CARES Act provided 150 billion dollars in COVID-19 relief funding to help state and local agencies make the rapid, unbudgeted shift to virtual services. Now, the American Rescue Plan Act supplies an additional 350 billion dollars in funds, which are available until 2024.
However, the clock is ticking, and with the time it takes to apply for a grant, receive funding and then procure the technology, waiting to upgrade is not an affordable option.
RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF BEING FUNDED
Increase the likelihood of receiving funding by leveraging the experience of grant assistance experts, like Poly’s Grant Assistance Team. These professionals provide comprehensive advice and insights. They help companies identify grants they qualify for, guide teams through the application process and continue to be a long-term partner. Best of all, this service is free to use.
DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING TO CHANCE
For a deeper look into the grant funding process and choosing the right virtual communication technology, read our new white paper, “A State and Local Agencies Guide to Finding and Funding Virtual Technologies”, or visit Poly.com.