Expansion of Remote Work Increases Competition Between Public, Private Sector

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Workforce experts say government employers should look for ways to embrace a flexible working environment even after the pandemic in order to compete.

State and local governments have always been in competition with the private sector for top talent.

But the proliferation of permanent remote work positions during the coronavirus pandemic has created a new challenge for public sector recruitment and retention, say workforce experts.

“Employees are starting to see the options available in the private sector and they are wanting that ability to work from anyplace and that flexibility,” said Pam Goins, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Administrators.

To compete, experts say governments should embrace flexible working arrangements in the long term and also strive to improve the overall employee experience through upskilling and training, and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Many governments have embraced remote work options—about 53% of state and local governments surveyed in a recent poll offer regular telework. But continuing to support flexibility in the workforce will be key in recruitment and retention efforts even as the pandemic subsides.  

“It’s very important that folks recognize that employees can be successful anywhere,” said Damon Haycock, the public sector program director for Benefitfocus, a provider of cloud-based benefits management platforms. “When the states compete for folks against the private sector and the private sector has work anywhere solutions and the states don’t, what does that do to limit the talent pool?”

Haycock was among the public workforce experts who spoke at a recent NASCA webinar on ways that government employers can compete for talent.

Embracing workplace flexibility requires empathy on the part of managers and leadership, said Troy Wintersteen, director of human capital management cloud applications at Oracle. When governments keep policies on the books that require workers to come back into the office without offering any flexibility or taking into consideration workers’ personal circumstances or remote work performance record “it exhibits a lack of trust on the part of the employers and the manager,” he said.

Some government jobs, like public safety or health care positions, can’t be remote or they require fixed shifts. That’s where other factors like the overall employee experience will play a significant role in recruitment and retention.

The factor that most directly affects an employee is the relationship and interaction the employee has with his or her manager, so leadership development is critical within government agencies, said Jeremy Spake, a senior principal at Cornerstone, a firm that helps organizations recruit and manage people, during the NASCA session.

“We should train managers to manage outcomes not, are you at your desk at 8 a.m.,” he said.

Providing managers with the right tools to be able to coach employees and receive feedback from them is important in this context, Spake said.

Keeping employees engaged also requires providing them ways to advance in their careers. Government agencies should ensure they have training and development opportunities that will enable employees to move up the ranks, Wintersteen said.

“If you are thinking about talent management, the ultimate goal is to have a succession plan,” he said.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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