Recounting how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a quick jump to 96 percent telework during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, agency CIO Vaughn Noga explained yesterday how partnerships with other offices and a new approach to emerging tech helped fuel the fast transition. And he urged tech practitioners not to forget lessons learned over the past three months as they transition to the next phase of new normal.

While acknowledging that the agency had a few hiccups along the way, Noga said EPA takes pride in being prepared and had been prepping to support a remote workforce for “many, many years.”

“When we had to go to full-time telework or work at home, we had technologies in place,” he said at the May 18 Future of Work webinar presented by Box. “Albeit, we saw for the first week or so that they were stressed, and we had to work with our providers to shore up some issues with our VPN [Virtual Private Network].”

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One of the biggest changes EPA has seen, Noga continued, was where the IT, human resources, and resource management divisions came together amid the telework changes. He said the agency is still onboarding new employees – nearly 200 new folks over the last several weeks – and talked about how the offices had to work closely together to get new employees productive from day one with the equipment that they needed.

“There was a real partnership with IT and in HR and resource management to make sure that that the first experience that a new employee has is a quality experience,” Noga said.

Going forward, he added that EPA can’t forget how important employee engagement is, especially with new hires. Noga said he doesn’t think the agency will ever go back to precisely where it was eleven weeks ago, because the pandemic has highlighted a new way of conducting business that’s not just about the adoption of IT, but also how the office communicates with others.

“One of the things that we learned early on is we need to be very clear and concise on our communications, especially as it has to do with new technologies,” Noga said. The OCIO can’t expect the workforce to understand technical jargon, so they’ve learned to put it in a way where they can better relate to it, the CIO said. Noga predicted a broader use of new tech, such as collaboration tools, even as the telework landscape changes.

“The work that we did over the last 10 years served us well, but don’t rest. You’ve got to continuously evolve,” Noga asserted. “Don’t let what we’ve learned now go to waste. When we get back to whatever the new normal is, don’t forget those things you identified as issues or things that we need to address,” he urged.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.