Work flexibility crucial as municipalities return to office

As municipalities start enacting employee return-to-office plans, it’s crucial for them and their partners to maintain flexibility. COVID-19 forced us all to improvise and adjust for the sake of business continuity, and now, whether we like it or not, the need for adaptability is here to stay.

Tags: Government, Employees, Technology
Published: August 09, 2021

Some institutions can often be slow to adopt change. However, the past year forced many of them, including municipalities, to assess their processes, systems and technologies and adapt and evolve them on the fly. It’s nothing short of impressive the way many organizations implemented work-from-home protocols and found other temporary workarounds to keep operations running smoothly.

Now, as state and local governments start transitioning employees back into the office again – whether that’s in a staggered or hybrid capacity – there are a number of lessons to carry forward. Here are four of the most important considerations for transitioning municipal staff to a new working normal.

 

1.    Continue to embrace work flexibility

Responding to a pandemic presented numerous challenges for municipalities across the country. The ones that weathered the storm most successfully were the ones that were the most flexible. Adaptability proved key to survival, and any initial reluctance toward non-traditional working models quickly dissolved as employees demonstrated they could still be productive and reliable in remote or hybrid roles.

“I think there’s a growing acceptance with the hybrid model as organizations see they can still get work done even in a municipal space,” says Lars Anderson, senior vice president and national sales manager for U.S. Bank Global Corporate Trust. “In that sense, I wouldn’t say the public sector is that unique – they’re trying to figure out how to do business similar to the retail sector.”

Now that employees are starting to come back to the office, it’s important for decision-makers to fully recognize and appreciate the benefits that flexibility provides. Managers need to figure out ways to maintain that agility while supporting their organization’s ability to handle the unexpected.

“It’s crucial we don’t all revert back to old patterns and ruts now just because they’re familiar,” says Lars. “We have an opportunity to make huge leaps forward in terms of digital infrastructure, do-it-yourself servicing and re-imagining the way offices work. It’s really a time to lean into change rather than trying to fall back into the ‘normal’ way things used to be done.”

 

2.    Seek out agile service providers

To maintain internal flexibility, municipalities need equally flexible partners who understand their needs and can craft solutions tailored to their specific requirements.

“We work with a lot of different government and municipal entities, and each one is unique,” says Jeff Kerr, executive vice president for U.S. Bank Global Corporate Trust and Custody. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and it requires a strong commitment from our team to really meet each client on their own turf, so to speak, and figure out what it’s going to take to make their jobs easier. That might be offering expertise, presenting options they haven’t thought of, or just making ourselves available when they need us – even if that’s outside of normal business hours.”

Moving forward, service providers will need to place greater emphasis on knowing their customers and on thinking outside the box to deliver extraordinary results in the face of unknown obstacles.

“It’s not easy and takes a little creativity, but we’ve always been able to create solutions to meet our clients’ needs,” says Jeff. “This year, we had bond closings where all the parties met up in a café parking lot, and we signed the documents on the hoods of our cars. There are always ways to make things work if you’re willing to find them.”

 

3.    Lean on your partners for solutions

Choosing the right partner expands your array of options because it enables collaboration and delegation. By accessing the experience and expertise of a broadly resourced industry leader, you open yourself to options you may not have otherwise considered – or even known about. You’re then able to offload the responsibility of finding efficient, effective solutions to a trusted team that’s equally invested in your success.

“When you think about it, a lot of municipalities aren’t that dissimilar to retail,” says Lee Strom, senior vice president and government banking division manager for U.S. Bank Corporate and Commercial Banking. “Their constituents come into the office and want information or a license or some other service – they need to conduct business just like in the retail sector. So now a lot of the governments are trying to figure out how to maintain some flexibility there. For example, how to digitize processes that have historically been done face to face. And we, as their service provider, can handle a lot of that for them.”

Managers are realizing they need to move forward quickly to keep pace with the changes in other industries and the expectations of their constituents. Municipalities that want to maintain flexibility in their offering will need strong support from their partners for digital frameworks and other future-focused technology services.

“A lot of our clients are reassessing the way they do business,” says Lee. “How do they make payments differently? How do they accept payments differently? At U.S. Bank, we can write checks, handle ACH processing, handle credit card processing and more. Services like that can take a lot of the burden off an organization, and it’s important for them to know they don’t have to figure all these things out on their own.”

 

“When you think about it, a lot of municipalities aren’t that dissimilar to retail,” says Lee Strom, senior vice president and government banking division manager for U.S. Bank Corporate and Commercial Banking. “Their constituents come into the office and want information or a license or some other service – they need to conduct business just like in the retail sector."

 

4.    Prioritize technology enhancements and digital systems

It often requires a certain amount of outside pressure – like a global pandemic, for example – to encourage municipalities to make necessary updates. The challenges of the past year compelled many organizations to take a hard look at their technology systems.

“Sometimes it takes a little bit of persistence to move municipalities forward,” says Bob Jones, senior vice president and municipal segment leader for U.S. Bank Global Corporate Trust, “and I think the pandemic pushed them toward some tech options they may have been hesitant to use – but have now found very helpful, especially when they can’t get into the office.”

Digital, online technology platforms are a key component in facilitating flexibility for municipal workforces. As managers seek out new ways of doing things, more and more are turning to their service providers for help. At U.S. Bank, we draw on the resources of our global network to continuously deliver state-of-the-art technology solutions that align with evolving business needs. Pivot, our online and mobile-app-accessible account platform, provides secure, convenient self-service access to information – making it easy to obtain comprehensive documentation and reporting, whenever, wherever.

“We’ve had several situations where clients called because they couldn’t get into the office to get our statements, and we reminded them that everything was available to them online,” says Bob. “Even though that might seem like a basic offering, it’s been extremely helpful for clients who haven’t typically had the benefit of immediate digital access to documents, transactions or payments.”

 

The past year was indeed a challenging one, but it reminded us all of the importance of remaining flexible and embracing change. By carrying these lessons forward and finding partners to lean on that share your priorities, we can build stronger relationships and better solutions for the future.

 

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