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When remote doesn’t work

The quick shift from onsite to online work in March led many state and local IT managers to piece together solutions that would keep their agencies running. Almost eight months later, a new report shows just how much the finance and administrative departments are struggling to support telework.

Key highlights from the report, commissioned by SAP Concur, showed that many back-end operations cannot be managed remotely, finance and administrative workers have increased workloads, reporting policies may need to be overhauled to sustain productivity and the effects of COVID-19 have clearly accelerated the adoption of cloud-based technologies.

A top challenge of transitioning to remote work was accessing project-related information and tools, according to 88% of respondents. Other obstacles include workers’ ability to get what they needed from coworkers (47%), limited communication technology options (43%) and completing manual and offline process (42%).

These problems were compounded by the fact that 67% of finance and administrative employees are managing at least three work tasks, according to the report. At the local level, the number is even higher: 72%. Although state and local governments must play a prominent role in times of crises, including health, economic and civil unrest, they must still fulfill day-to-day obligations such as education, unemployment support and traffic safety.  These multiplying missions are forcing staff to take on more responsibilities.

“COVID-19 upended government operations at the state and local level, forcing decision makers to retool priorities in real time to focus on the most critical tasks,” the report stated. “In fact, more than half (55%) of state and local governments had the added responsibility of redirecting funding for essential services. In other words, state and local government decision-makers were forced to deprioritize or delay all other noncritical government services to ensure the most important government services could get done.”

Seventy percent of state and local government respondents said that adopting mobile practices would give them a better handle on financial operations, but the report found that only 11% of respondents said they have a fully automated platform that lets employees file and track travel and expenses, for instance, and almost 40% said they have not invested in expense- and travel-related technology at all.

Compliance is another challenge. Nearly half (48%) of respondents said complying with required state and federal reporting policies is difficult in remote work environments because of delays. For instance, some agencies with manual processing must establish a centralized cost center, landing the reporting responsibility for capturing and identifying COVID-related costs squarely on the finance department.

“This is both time consuming for finance departments and problematic for program offices, as it removes fund allocation authority from the program in which it occurs, such as public health or transportation,” the report stated. “A better solution would include an end-to-end system that allows agencies to track COVID-19 costs with manual adjustments, regardless of where the invoice or expense was generated.”

To address these challenges 75% of respondents said their agency hastened decisions to invest in cloud-based budget management solutions, with the number slightly greater at 80% for local governments.

Those cloud investments may come in handy. With the number of new coronavirus infections breaking records almost daily, “all signs point to state and local government finance and administration departments functioning offsite for the foreseeable future,” the report stated. In fact, 28% of staff, on average, can continue to work from home when governments fully reopen without decreasing productivity.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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