Working remotely is not something new for the public sector, a world seen by many to be behind the times and slow to react to change. In fact in order to our job — that is to serve the public — public sector employees are on a constant search for quicker and cheaper ways to do things.
Remote working picture from Shutterstock
With that said, the public sector has got quite a lot of restrictions built into it. We have access to some very sensitive information; we use public funds and are accountable not only to our manager but politicians and the general public.
Privacy is very important and being able to protect that information is something that is foremost in the minds of government IT professionals.
Even with that in mind the public sector does and can do remote working surprisingly well.
In its most basic form governments all over Australia have embraced the smart phone and the full capabilities of accessing email anywhere. This is now probably thought as old hat; however, the ability to access email, archives, diary/calendar and contacts on the go is no mean feat. Updating contacts directly and answering or even just reading emails in the field is a big win. Even just checking my inbox on the commute to work means I start at the office with a clear idea of any major issues or a much cleared inbox (with no junk mail).
The next step up from phones is seen in use of tablets and hybrids. More and more executives and managers are using iPads and similar to keep in touch. These are great tools for long form email or editing/reading larger documents. Again, these are not fully working remotely, but it does decrease the amount of time spent out of touch and increases efficiency to work on tasks out of the confines of the office.
Finally there's the full-on remote desktop world, a virtual desktop accessible from any internet connected computer. This is the ultimate in remote working and is essential to a fully functioning remote workforce. Not only does a virtual desktop allow access from any computer it also reduces the need for IT departments to manage multiple machines and installs. The desktop or laptop being used doesn't need to be the latest or greatest as it is only a conduit to the server hosting the virtual desktop.
This is a favoured way of working remotely for me. Using a laptop I can access my desktop, shared drives, files, electronic filing system, email, calendar and suite of programs. I can essential do my job anywhere in an environment that I am familiar with (my desktop icons are where I left them). The real beauty is the ease to switch back and forth from in the field to the office. I don't have to log out and close down all my open programs (I do save files) — when I'm back in the office and switching to the desktop machine what I left open is still open after I log back in.
This seamless ability to move is worth time and efficiency and certainly makes my job easier. If dealing with a client in the field I can bring up their information, add notes and deal with issues on the go.
Combine that with redirection of landline calls and my office is wherever I happen to be. This means greater contact with clients and businesses. Being more in touch with what is happening on the street in my patch and with the people I'm working for.
It certainly does not take away the need for an office, or even a desk (I can't believe the amount of actual paperwork we still generate) but it is certainly a long way off being tied to a desk and a discrete desktop environment.
In fact even at my desktop I'm still logged into a virtual environment, and yes you read that right "my desktop". Whilst a lot of the public sector is breaking free of the confides of desk bound work, it can take a while to filter out and become the norm. I use a team laptop when working remotely, booked out for a few hours or a day. It's not ideal and I know that things are changing; new contracts for IT equipment will need to account for more mobile computing.
The brave new world is just over the next hill and I believe that the public sector (parts of it at least) are storming up that rise to take it on.
Ben Harnwell was a recent winner in our IT Survivor Chromebook challenge competition. He currently works as Coordinator Economic Development and Tourism at Manningham City Council — the views expressed here are his own and not those of his employer.