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3 Ways to Win as a Virtual Public Servant

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By Dr. John Frame

During the past few years, I’ve served twice as a consultant for the United Nations Development Programme in Istanbul, Turkey. More recently, I served as a pro bono consultant for another UN agency, in New York. At that time, I lived in London and worked from home or a café. I even made a phone call once from a park bench. 

Now that COVID-19 has hit, my former colleagues are now working remotely. How can public servants serve with excellence in a virtual environment? With insight from three faculty members at the Northcentral University School of Business, here are three ways to win as a virtual public servant.

1) WIN BY PRIORITIZING CITIZENS

Public servants need to ensure their constituents are having a good experience engaging public services. Dr. Erin Hoffer, Associate Professor and Program Lead for the Master of Public Administration and Doctor of Public Administration programs at NCU, stated, “I’ve personally experienced surprising flexibility in my local bureaucracy that retooled to handle motor vehicle registration or business licensing online, instead of requiring visits to the offices, now closed.” 

Yet, government services moving online can complicate the already bureaucratic experience. “If you’re working a public-facing position from home, make sure the public knows you’re still engaged,” Dr. Stephanie Menefee, Associate Dean of Students and Professor, says. Constituents want to know their needs will continue to be met. “A bit more empathy might be needed now that you aren’t face to face with them,” she said.

2) WIN BY USING VIRTUAL PLATFORMS WELL

At present, public servants are often front and center in the media. Virtual platforms of local leaders can be powerful, Dr. Hoffer states. Public administrators can serve their constituents with tweets and live video briefings, she added. This allows them to actually reach out to those who are experiencing concerns or fear, as well as those who might need assistance. “Now more than ever, virtual platforms open up new pathways to reach the public and solicit feedback to learn how the government can better serve public needs,” she stated.

3) WIN BY TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF

Dr. Wes Rangel, an adjunct professor in the NCU School of Business, has worked for the U.S. Federal government for 15 years, the last four remotely. He emphasized the importance of taking time to connect with co-workers and staying connected to the team, including socially. “Communicate frequently with co-workers,” he advised. Furthermore, public administrators working from home, just like those working in an office, need to take regular breaks. “Treat each day like you were in the office,” he stated. Dr. Menefee agrees, and added, “Allow yourself some time to decompress. When you’re stressed out, those you’re serving will pick up on it, and it’ll make them nervous, too.”

Prioritizing citizens, using virtual platforms well, and taking care of yourself: Implementing these three ideas can help public servants win at providing excellent service to their constituents.

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