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Commentary: FI$Cal Shares Lessons Learned from a Year of Telework

“Because of our success to date, as well as being the first department in the state to pilot a permanent hybrid telework program, FI$Cal was chosen by the Government Operations Agency’s Center for Government Excellence and Transformation pilot program,” writes FI$Cal Deputy Director Jennifer Maguire.

The following commentary first appeared in the September newsletter of the Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal). It has been edited lightly for style.

By Jennifer Maguire, FI$Cal deputy director, Administrative Services

When employees of the Department of FI$Cal (Financial Information System for California) were sent home in March 2020, they were accustomed to doing nearly all of their work at our facility. During the first few weeks while trying to digest the effects of the pandemic, leadership had some pretty tough conversations. What impacts will we see? How will employees adjust? How will we stay on track, especially when you’re not used to a telework environment?

But FI$Cal has prevailed. We quickly were able to adjust to telework, maintain or increase our productivity, create integrated telework policies including strategies for implementation, and in some cases create new policies to adapt our processes and procedures for a new way of doing business. Resilient employees and innovative leadership were both crucial to our department’s success.

We now lease 50 percent less space than just over a year ago. We are acclimating to a hoteling concept while in the office and plan to use our training and testing rooms to host other state department end users in the months to come. We also have a big vision in mind for our future that we are working with the Department of General Services on. We would like to explore the possibility of having pod space in a few locations throughout the greater Sacramento area. Conceptually, these pod spaces will provide Wi-Fi, printer and copier services, and become supply distribution centers for our employees. In the next year, we are working towards implementing new collaborative applications, online training opportunities and the continuation of exploring new ways of automating manual process.

And now after a year of telework, we take a look at some lessons learned. Our success really comes down to personal accountability. Each of our employees has had to design their workday to ensure goals are met and productivity is not only maintained, but improved. Keeping a daily work schedule, including tracking our KPIs, has been important for maintaining accountability, and measuring our service-level outputs while staying in touch with supervisors and other team members through daily or weekly check-ins has also been key. Branding our remote office environment, through standardizing our video backgrounds and sharing telework tips and tricks, helps our employees feel connected and find commonality in our challenges and provides a sense of a remote culture that we can all find common ground with. Finally, our team has also had to learn to structure their days to be productive while often spending a significant part of the day in Microsoft Teams meetings. We have worked to maximize the value of time spent in meetings, and employees are still instituting the practice of blocking off time to work on individual projects and duties.

Because of our success to date, as well as being the first department in the state to pilot a permanent hybrid telework program, FI$Cal was chosen by the Government Operations Agency’s Center for Government Excellence and Transformation (GET) pilot program. The GET Center works with departments to pilot transformative ideas that have the potential to scale across state government by developing a statewide strategic plan to guide the state into a results-oriented operational environment.

The strategic plan that will be coming out in the months to come will lay out many of the ideas that we have implemented, discuss our wins and our challenges, and focus on some of the lessons learned I just highlighted. Our director, Miriam Ingenito, looks forward to other state departments hearing all about how FI$Cal is a model for the future remote workforce.
Jennifer Maguire joined the Department of FI$Cal (Financial Information System for California) as the deputy director of the Administrative Services Division in December 2012, overseeing human resources, financial services including accounting and budgeting, business and desktop support services, procurement and contract management. Before joining FI$Cal, Maguire held a variety of roles in the financial and administrative fields in state government. Her most recent assignment before joining FI$Cal was serving as the budget officer for the Department of Justice.