Desk-bound Government Workers Find Mobility, Collaboration Options Lacking

It's easy to talk about modernizing the way local, state and federal governments operate. Providing easier access to services, allowing employees more flexible work arrangements and improving collaboration are popular public-sector goals. But in reality there's a lot of work to be done to realize those goals, says Forrester Research.

For starters, many government workers lack the tools they need to be more efficient and responsive, such as mobile technologies and collaboration tools. In a survey published late last month, Forrester found that just 11% of government information workers use laptops, while 87% use desktop computers. As a result, more government workers are tethered to their cubicles than nongovernment employees: 63% of government employees work in only one location, compared to 56% of nongovernment workers.

The use of smartphones is also lower among government workers than in the private sector. Just 9% of government workers have smartphones they use for work, compared to 19% of non-government workers.

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E-mail remains the predominant collaboration software, used by 93% of North American government employees. The use of instant messaging (26%), team collaboration technology (18%), Web conferencing (14%), social media tools (4%) and VoIP tools such as Skype (3%) is far less prevalent.

"Advanced collaboration tools - like social technologies, document workspaces and video - have the potential to help break down organizational silos and improve access to expertise to solve problems. For example, these tools can give citizens access to information and let them contribute to policy discussions," notes analyst TJ Keitt, author of the Forrester report. "Yet few tools beyond e-mail and productivity apps have seen widespread adoption."

Inadequate policy is one reason for the lack of workplace flexibility. In its survey, Forrester found that government IT teams have done the work to deploy remote access technologies: 72% of survey respondents who are responsible for network and telecom decisions say they've rolled out IPsec VPN and 64% have SSL VPN. (IPSec vs. SSL)

So why aren't these technologies used more often? Forrester suggests the policies to allow remote work haven't kept pace with connectivity support.

Not surprisingly, less than half of the government workers surveyed (45%) say they are satisfied with their technology options, compared to 57% of non-government workers.

When asked if the technology they have at home is better than the technology at work, 39% said yes. While 34% of non-government workers feel the same way, "government workers often have no recourse because they're given little discretion over the technology tools they use," Keitt notes.

Keitt cites a few examples that indicate governments are making progress toward becoming more flexible, accessible and collaborative. The recently passed Telework Improvement Act, for instance, will encourage more employees to work remotely. Government use of cloud services to reduce costs and accelerate access to new communication and collaboration tools is another positive sign.

Among the recommendations Keitt suggests for improving government workforce effectiveness is to pilot "bring your own" programs with workers who have access to portable technologies. "Providing government information workers flexibility in work location can begin with allowing certain employees to use their personal technology for this purpose," he suggests.

Forrester's report is based on the responses of 669 local and federal government information workers in the U.S. and Europe, as part of a broad workforce employee survey conducted in the third quarter of last year.

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