Insight by Force 3

How IT can ensure holistic approach to reopening offices

While many feel that returning to the office is an insurmountable challenge, the fact is agencies can use a combination of technology, processes and data to add...

The number of agencies starting to bring employees back to the office has slowly been ramping up over the last month or two.

The IRS, the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are among the agencies that are resuming normal, in-office operations as safely as possible.

Agencies have a long way to go to create confidence with employees. A June Federal News Network survey found a strong majority of respondents, both federal employees and contractors, who are still teleworking, said they are “very uncomfortable” with the prospect of returning to the office and another 15% said they were “slightly uncomfortable” with returning to the office.

Among the concerns from employees and contractors is how to ensure social distancing, especially in elevators, how to ensure there are plenty of personal protective equipment like wipes and what to do about common areas like bathrooms or break rooms.

While many feel that returning to the office is an insurmountable challenge, the fact is agencies can use a combination of technology, processes and data to address many of these new challenges.

From thermal imaging to address temperature controls to online tools for communication to notify employees to content delivery applications, agencies can create safe and productive environment

One way agencies like the Homeland Security and Education departments adapted to the current environment is how they changed the way they issue secure identity or PIV cards to new employees. It’s touchless and uses alternative, but secure technology in derived credentials.

The Homeland Security Department has been dealing with a hybrid workforce where some employees can work remotely while others have to be in airports ort at the border. DHS official say it plans to overcome many of these concerns and challenges, reopen offices safely and continue to take advantage of remote work innovations that emerged over the last six months.

Eric Stuhl, the director of networking and security at Force 3, said each agency has its own set of challenges and directives for ensuring employees can meet the mission.

“Trying to find ways to leverage technology to enable that [return to the office] is the biggest challenge,” Stuhl said. “Is that finding ways to guide people through the office using Bluetooth technology to give them a directed path? Or having a visual presentation of building populations and their capacity on the screen so employees can have a sense of comfort as to whether or not they are being taken care of and those digital security controls are being met? Or now that you have 100,000 VPN users, how does that scale your network, how do you get your resources and how do you ensure those security controls are in place at every individuals’ desk? Those are the types of challenges where we are seeing the biggest amount of effort being put in place.”


Returning to the Office at DHS

We have provided guidance with regard to contactless entry, minimize the use of PIN entry for those facilities that don’t require the use of a PIN. We have taken a risk based approach to that. We’ve provided guidance for access control entry to facilities.


Technology in the Virtual Environment

What we are seeing because of the cloud implementation, because of the activities that have happened because of IT modernization, for example like the virtual desktop we are all using now, we have seen 255% increase. What we see on a daily basis is as people are using these collaboration tools that we are using, it’s highlighting more and more issues associated with making sure that we are dealing with the rules that are in the government that were a little bit easier when you were in the workplace but now we are in the virtual environment we’ve adapting these tools.


Ensuring the Needs of Employees

A technology island is bad and multiple islands are worse. So as people are returning to work, marrying up your existing systems with these newly accentuated working from home systems, do they work together, what is the user experience, what training is involved and user adoption are all questions that have to be asked.

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Panel of experts

  • Angela Bailey

    Chief Human Capital Officer, Department of Homeland Security

  • Karen Evans

    Chief Information Officer, Department of Homeland Security

  • Tom Chaleki

    Chief Readiness Support Officer, Department of Homeland Security

  • Rich McComb

    Chief Security Officer, Department of Homeland Security

  • Eric Stuhl, Director

    Networking & Security, Force 3

  • Joe Lazzaro

    Practice Manager, Collaboration, Force 3

  • Jason Miller

    Executive Editor, Federal News Network