As the initial crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has begun to give way to a sustained phase of distributed teams and partially reopened offices, government leaders face new challenges in managing employees and delivering citizen services, including education.

“People just really want to feel safe,” says Utah CIO Mike Hussey. “With schools reopening and people getting back to work, [we’re trying] to ensure the monitoring mechanisms we’ve put in place are solid. We now have a school nurse/ contact tracer at every school that will be a point of contact for each school and district funneling up to the state.”

Hussey was speaking during a recent webinar, “The Crisis-Ready Digital Experience,” part of a series of conversations for the Crisis Response Initiative, a joint program between Governing and Government Technology to help state and local leaders respond to crises.

“We now have a school report card that says, ‘Hey, how are we doing?’ Not just from a pandemic perspective, but how effective have we made those pivots to educating our kids [remotely in some districts]? We're going to be monitoring a lot of things in the next little while to ensure we haven't missed something.”

In fact, Hussey said, the next few months will be an important time for governments to look backwards and assess how well they have performed during the first six months of the pandemic shutdowns.

“We need to circle back and say, ‘Hey, we did a good job here, here and here. But what did we miss that is still a challenge for us?’ We need to focus some efforts on enabling some [digital] services that we haven't.”

Hussey also spoke about the challenge of sustaining employee engagement in an era of remote work.

“People are starting to trickle into the office here and there, but many are really starting to feel disconnected,” he said. “One of the things we've been doing is trying to create some little groups and have people go on a virtual walk together around their neighborhood. Or I've heard of some doing cooking shows together.”

Other initiatives, he said, have included trivia contests and bracket-style competitions, along with an invitation to skewer an image of their supervisor. “We had a Photoshop the Boss contest, which meant Photoshop me. It was funny!”

For King County, Wash., CIO Tanya Hannah, the current phase of the pandemic is about reassessing and reimagining.

“What does service delivery really look like? The world is changing. What's the art of possible and how do we continue to deliver services?” said Hannah who joined Hussey for the discussion.

The pandemic has changed the way citizens use technology, she said, and governments should think about how to integrate those changes as well.

“You know, older adults are now using technology to order groceries and have it delivered. So how can we incorporate that within our experience?”

Other technologies are paving the way for redesigning government service delivery, Hannah said.

“There's chat bots, digital assistants, video, voice, web. How do we think about these technologies and incorporate that into our environment to better deliver services, be more transparent and ensure that there's equal access to services and information?”

Learn more about how governments are meeting the challenges of the pandemic at governing.com/crisisresponse.

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