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Efficient remote workforce depends on accountability
Though COVID-19 catalyzed remote work worldwide, the state of Arizona has offered remote work options since 1993, recognizing the benefits of positive environmental impact, increased employee satisfaction and significant savings for taxpayers. This program began with the mandated goal of improving air quality standards, setting a target to reduce the number of employees driving solo to work by encouraging rideshare, public transportation and remote work.
Today Arizona is realizing remote work benefits well beyond improved air quality. The Arizona’s Connected Workforce program, which focuses on best practices for managing and coaching a modern workforce, promotes work culture innovation that has increased the State’s ability to better serve Arizonans. And the benefits are already clear for constituents and employees.
“Arizona has raised the bar in terms of how state government can serve constituents. What ramped up during the pandemic has proven to be a remote work model that is a win-win for employees and taxpayers alike,” said Mary Marshall, program manager for the Arizona Office of Travel Reduction Programs.
The goals of Arizona’s Connected Workforce program still include reducing pollution but also enhancing the state’s utilization of real estate, increasing employee productivity, supporting employee retention and recruitment and providing continuous improvement in customer service to Arizonans.
The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System started the transition to telework in 2005. More than 79 percent of its workforce is now virtual; building consolidation allowed the agency to save $1.2 million in fiscal year 2020. The Department of Economic Security, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Veterans’ Services, the Arizona Department of Administration and others have also seen the value in moving significant portions of their work online, including less absenteeism, lowered operational expenses and reduced wait times for some services.
The Department of Veterans’ Services, for example, reported that since veterans benefits counselors moved to virtual offices, direct services to veterans increased by more than 47%, and wait times for appointments decreased from nine weeks to two days.
At the beginning of his term, Gov. Doug Ducey introduced a Lean management system to state government that has been universally adopted across all executive agencies, boards and commissions. Known as the Arizona Management System, this tool uses visual goal measurement, issue mitigation techniques and efficiency improvement processes to streamline the state’s work and make demonstrable improvements in how the state serves its citizens.
“Being able to standardize work and measure productivity is crucial to the success of remote work in Arizona,” said Gloria Diaz, AHCCCS continuous improvement officer leading the agency’s effort to standardize AMS processes across all teams. “AMS is now a way of doing business across all divisions at AHCCCS, and because of that, we have the metrics to illustrate how remote work is as productive, and perhaps in some ways even more efficient, than traditional in-person work.”
Marshall said that the leadership of the Government Transformation Office was critical to the implementation of AMS concepts in remote work management and the growing culture of remote work in Arizona. Program managers in GTO benchmarked Arizona’s approach against other states’ remote work policies and facilitated working groups that built remote work training modules for employees and managers, revised the annual remote work agreement that employees sign along with their supervisors, and developed an ambitious real-estate footprint reduction plan while designing state-of-the art hoteling facilities for employees and working groups who had occasional need to meet in person. GTO was able to marshal resources and agency participation that allowed an enterprise adoption of a large-scale virtual office option.
“We would not have the program as a legacy program had GTO not been involved,” said Marshall.
The Government Transformation Office gathered insight from other states about the importance of collaborative planning across agencies and lessons learned from coworking spaces built elsewhere. With that insight, Arizona’s Connected Workspace, a coworking facility at 1400 W. Washington St., is open now to all state employees. The contemporary co-working space down the street from the Arizona Capitol offers individual work stations and meeting rooms that are reservable through an app that features images and floor plans for every available space.
As of June 2022, more than 15,000 employees representing 41% of the state workforce work remotely at least some of the time. What began as an unexpected shift to virtual for many employees out of necessity during COVID-19 has proven to be a successful model for excellence and accountability.
Arizonans all benefit. By reducing office space footprints, taxpayers have saved $9.2 million from the state budget thus far and averted 91,165 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 81 tons of nitrogen oxides from the air. Employee engagement is up 6% since 2019, and in 2022, 99% of employees said remote work has had a positive impact on their work experience.
Ultimately, the Arizona Connected Workforce program benefits everyone in Arizona. And ACW is poised to keep improving and strengthening the state government’s ability to serve Arizona citizens.