With 'Back to School' Planning Upon Us, It’s All About the Data

It’s a mystery why the film community felt an iconic movie like “Grease” needed a reprise. But alas, “Grease 2” hit the big screen and ushered in new teen angst themes around bowling and the talent show. The opening score “Back to School” by the Four Tops is the backdrop of a full-company dance routine, with teens in poodle skirts and leather jackets woefully dragging their feet and shaking their heads as they drag themselves into the front doors of Rydell High—the back-to-school ritual still loathed by today’s teenagers, but in very different ways.

This year, back to school means something altogether different than it did for greasers. Now it means ensuring the campus is safe from contagion, modernized to allow digital collaboration and learning. It means providing a healthy environment for learning, growth, and community.

Back in the day, a good milkshake or hula hoop contest may have done the trick.

Today, it’s all about the data. As public sector agencies begin reopening after the first wave of the global pandemic, they’re relying on large volumes of solid, reliable data to manage a complex process with virtually no margin for error.

The college campus is but one environment public sector leaders must manage through. “Campus” in this blog series is a catch-all for all the buildings, post-secondary institutions, and military bases going through the same post-COVID mission and operations continuity planning.

Getting safely “back to school” is something everyone wants. Lives and livelihoods depend on it. And yet, as Splunk notes in its new e-book on the post-COVID return, "Build a More Resilient Workplace for Government and Higher Education," it’s a “misleadingly simple label” for a process that is as varied as the places we work, the programs we run, and the people we serve.

It might be a lot easier if everyone could work and study from home for the foreseeable future. Heck, we’ve had three to four months to get used to it, missing out on milestone events and traditions along the way. But so many public sector functions — from front-line healthcare, to in-person delivery of government services, to critical infrastructure management, to peacekeeping and defense planning — still depend on employees to gather together in a single location.

Often this places those employees in proximity to the wider public, despite standard public health advice calling for citizens to limit their contacts.

It adds up to an unavoidable reality: a safe, healthy return to work is critical to the mission of every organization that depends on people to get the job done. Employees need the confidence to respond to a new, unprecedented set of conditions, based on management practices that are nimble enough to respond and adapt as the continuing stages of the pandemic play out.

Which means that, however varied the employee experience is in offices, at customer service counters, or in hospital emergency wards, a successful return to work always depends on one common thread: the ability to quickly gather data to drive fast, reliable decision-making.

Resilience is Job One

Ensuring a safe, resilient work force may not be written into your job description as a public sector manager. But it’s a part of the job now, because everything else you’re supposed to be doing depends on it.

Until earlier this year, most employees could return to work or duty without wondering whether they’d be healthy and safe. Managers had access to a familiar set of tools and standards to address any foreseeable hazards.

That’s not today’s reality. As the pandemic runs its course, you’ll need a new suite of data and tools to bring your workplace back to its previous level of ease and confidence. And while most organizational leaders embrace their duty to keep their people safe, they also know there’s a pragmatic side to the story: if your people aren’t safe, healthy, and confident that they’ll be able to stay that way, they’ll be far less capable of delivering on mission.

All of those basic needs and expectations come back to data—on the performance and physical movements of employees in a range of work settings, the progression of the virus in different locations, and its impact on the health of your work force and the mission of your agency.

Privacy Still Matters

And those expectations will have to be met in a way that respects the privacy of people in all roles—employee, student, employee, manager. That means the success of our agencies and the fulfillment of their essential mandates depends on a platform that fiercely protects individuals’ private information, while delivering the aggregated, real-time data you need to respond to changing circumstances and keep people safe.

The Takeaway

This kind of big, sudden adjustment is rarely easy. But with the right tools to gather and analyze data, you can earn the respect and confidence of your employees, students and faculty at a moment when trust is the most valuable commodity of all. And by getting your “Back to School” response right, you can begin preparing your agency or institution for a future where sharing and collaboration will be the basis for continuing success. Download our new e-book "Build a More Resilient Workplace for Government and Higher Education" for more on the post-COVID return.

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