By Leonor Camarena, Ph.D.

Modernizing the Public Sector Workforce

In January 2022, Gallup released a list of seven workplace insights and takeaways from employees following the height of the pandemic during 2021. The key themes across the seven workplace insights are the importance of managerial support, workplace flexibility, and overall employee well-being. The “Great Resignation,” a time with high employee quit rates across organizations, has forced those in leadership to begin to improve retention strategies and consider how to attract employees. Amid understanding how to do this, organizations are now wrestling with developing changes in workplace policies. Debates of four-day work weeks versus the continuation of teleworking are current discussions in how to modernize the workforce. The goal in these changes is to ensure employees feel engaged and included in their workplace. In addition to these considerations, managers are also having to consider employee burnout and overall well-being. While the private sector has typically had more flexibility with these types of changes, the state of New Jersey developed the Model Telework Program for State Executive Branch Employees to modernize procedures for employees working in New Jersey State Agencies.

The NJ State Teleworking Pilot Program

Following the remote working changes that occurred during the start of the pandemic, the New Jersey State Government is now three months into the one-year teleworking pilot program (Model Telework Program for State Executive Branch Employees). All New Jersey state agencies (apart from some agencies that require fully in-person work) have been tasked with developing a teleworking policy through this pilot program. The goal of the program is to modernize most of the state agencies in New Jersey by developing department policies that allow teleworking. It is still too early in the adoption of the pilot program to provide any evaluation into which departments have noticed any change with the development of a teleworking policy, but over the duration of the program, our research will provide an overview of ways in which the teleworking policy was developed and report on the benefits and challenges for the state of New Jersey.

As an overview, the pilot program required state agencies with the ability to telework to develop a policy that did the following:

  • All departments and authorities will be required to offer a telework program of no more than two working days per week based on operational need.
  • Appointing authorities should make available flextime schedules and/or alternate work programs for employees who are not eligible for telework when operational needs allow.
  • Employees will be required to engage in an application process to determine eligibility. Both employees and managers will be required to complete telework trainings as part of the approval process.
  • Significant discretion shall be given to appointing authorities to consider operational needs when determining telework schedules for eligible employees.
  • Each department will be required to consult with relevant unions when developing their telework plans.

New Jersey State Policy Lab Project

We are interested in understanding what factors affect the adoption and implementation of departments’ teleworking policies and which actors were involved in developing the teleworking policy. In addition, we would like to find out more regarding any challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned during the pandemic that have influenced state government departments and employees in their approach to teleworking.  Many organizations across the United States are changing their working structure from being fully in person, to hybrid or to fully remote. Our goal is to provide insights to state government agencies in developing new policies and procedures based on these experiences.

As we progress with this project, we will keep the goals of the NJ Teleworking Pilot program in mind. We will speak with state government managers to provide an in-depth understanding of how public managers adapted to the integration of technology into their daily life before, during, and after the pandemic and how they have used this to influence their state agency policies.