In a new report, National Association for State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) found that despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic radically changing the last 12 months, state CIOs and their teams adjusted to maintain stability, resiliency, and flexibility.

The report, which was supposed to be the 2020 version of NASCIO’s reoccurring workforce survey, was initially delayed due to the pandemic. However, NASCIO said that once it became clear that “return to ‘life as we knew it’ would not be anytime soon,” the organization pivoted and decided to look at the state IT workforce from a pre, during, and post pandemic world. The report is based on data collected in February and March of 2020 and January and February of 2021.

NASCIO found that despite the pandemic, state CIOs’ workforce priorities remained largely the same. In both reports, CIOs mentioned:

  • Continuing to recruit and retain qualified staff;
  • Training and career advancement/growth;
  • Workplace flexibility;
  • Improving pay scales;
  • Increasing workforce bandwidth and competencies; and
  • Succession planning.

However, unsurprisingly, between the 2020 and 2021 survey, there were key changes in priorities. Most notably, in the 2020 survey – which occurred before the pandemic – only three CIOs mentioned remote work as a workforce priority in the coming year or three. That has since changed, and NASCIO said the 2021 responses based on the assumption that remote work will be around permanently or at least for the near future. “Put simply, state CIOs think expanded telework is around for the long haul and they will need to make it as easy as possible for the state workforce,” the report says.

NASCIO President and New Hampshire Commissioner and CIO Denis Goulet commented, “It is clear that state IT staff have played and continue to play a critical role in keeping state government running during the COVID-19 pandemic. My fellow CIOs have consistently praised their staff for their resiliency during this past year.”

Over the last year, state CIOs have grown increasingly focused on having a diverse workforce. NASCIO said creating a diverse workforce and emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, was only mentioned once in 2020. However, in 2021, “several” CIOs listed it as a priority.

“One likely cause for this is the civil unrest and calls for social justice and change in the summer of 2020,” the report says.

The pandemic also caused an increased emphasis on workplace culture as teams moved to remote work. “CIOs told us that culture was more important than ever with workplace flexibility, culture management, and creating a connected culture all listed as goals by several CIOs,” the report explains.

Along with focusing on workplace culture, CIOs said the pandemic highlighted the importance of employee mental health and well-being. One CIO told NASCIO that the pandemic has taught his team to be “nimble and understanding.” CIOs also discussed the difficulty in adapting when employee’s priorities are focused elsewhere. One CIO asaked, “how do we continue to function when team members were focused on family safety issues?” Employee burnout was also a top concern, CIOs said to counter the risk of burnout, they encouraged vacation time and worked to recognize and celebrate milestones and accomplishments in a remote environment.

“We may be a technology agency, but we’re still powered by humans. And while we can automate systems and processes, we cannot automate a healthy, resilient workplace culture,” one CIO said.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs