Agencies and contractors alike, welcome to the new normal for operations

This content is sponsored by MAXIMUS.

As the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve and we entered a new decade, optimism filled the air. But just a few months later, life for most people around the world changed dramatically in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. People from all walks of life have struggled to cope with a life of quarantine and limited interaction with friends and families. We have completely reshaped how we manage our daily lives, with schools shuttered, businesses closed, and many Americans sent to work at home, if they could. With phrases like “flattening the curve” and “social distancing” now commonplace, the world is a very different place.

As we have begun a phased approach to re-open our businesses, schools, and economy, it’s painfully clear that life as we knew it is not returning anytime soon. Instead, we are preparing for a new normal in both our personal and professional lives.

For the federal government and private contractors, we are actively creating our new normal, asking questions like: “How do we protect our employees? How do we keep information safe when most of the workforce is working from home? And, how do we keep up with increased demands from citizens?”

Protecting Your People

It should go without saying that the health and safety of employees should remain our first priority while efforts to develop a vaccine and therapeutics for COVID-19 continue. As workers return on-site – and for those essential workers who never stopped coming in – it is vital to continue all necessary steps to keep employees healthy.

Many of us with national operations looked first to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and added to their guidance as local health departments required. Every business and government agency is impacted, as we all strive to reconfigure workspaces to maintain proper distancing between employees, implement significantly enhanced cleaning regimens, and remain vigilant about mandated masks.

For those of us balancing our employees’ safety and the need to keep essential services like Medicaid and Medicare readily available to the public, it’s crucial that only healthy employees can come to the office. Early on, we developed a mobile app – Clear2Work – that requires on-site employees to answer a daily health questionnaire before coming to work. Coupled with temperature checks, this reduces the potential for spreading the illness and has been effective in early identification of employees needing testing, tracing, and isolation. As testing becomes more available and suitable to employer settings, both the private sector and government agencies will gain the ability for their employees to be tested regularly. In the meantime, our goal is to maintain a safe “hybrid” work environment – combining the remote and limited on-site models. We will do this at least through the end of September.

Remote Work & Protecting Information

The global pandemic highlighted gaps in business continuity plans (BCP). When every site had to be temporarily shut down or operate with reduced staffing, it was no longer feasible to shift work from one location to another – as many BCPs had envisioned. This unanticipated scenario presented largely unforeseen challenges since much of the work government employees and their contracting partners perform was never intended to be done remotely or in a home environment.

This office-based model was rightfully in place to ensure that cybersecurity and protecting personal information was a top priority. However, we’ve learned with COVID-19 that we don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. As thousands of workers were rapidly transitioned to remote work environments, innovative approaches to cybersecurity helped pave the way for more flexibility in how government agencies and vital programs can effectively serve millions of Americans outside of a traditional office or call center environment.

While it may sound simple in practice, transitioning employees to a remote work environment was complicated by a global shortage of IT equipment. Nothing short of heroic efforts were required to procure new equipment, accelerate our planned shift to the cloud, and increase network capacity.

We’ve been able to overcome these challenges by capitalizing on the strategic investments we’d already made in our IT infrastructure, including secure remote network platforms and cloud-based omnichannel telephony environments. As one example, we leveraged our planned migration to provision nearly 9,000 secure agent desktops through Amazon WorkSpaces in addition to approximately 7,500 VPN connection users.

The Big Picture of the New Normal

We are analyzing fresh data from our operations under the “new normal” to ensure the quality and productivity that our clients expect from us. We use this data to evaluate how each employee performs and determine the environment best suited to them moving forward. We’ve already seen some benefits through reduced absenteeism, consistent productivity, and testimonies to increased job satisfaction. Taken together, this can mean better service to the millions of Americans who rely on the vital programs we operate each year.

These efforts are more than a short-term fix. Beyond the uncertainty that currently obscures our view of the future, and requires continued flexibility, I truly believe we are forging an entirely new operating model. The foundation has been laid to create a path forward for government services for the next decade and beyond. The pandemic has accelerated trends we had just begun to adopt – like large-scale video conferencing – and offers us a unique opportunity to test and learn from new models. Agencies and their private partners alike are finding new ways of serving and engaging citizens who, now more than ever, need access to vital services.

This content is sponsored by Bruce Caswell, President & CEO, Maximus.

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