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Nine Tech Tips for Starting a New Government Job

Image via James Thew

The learning curve at a new government job is high. From the acronyms to the bureaucracy, a new employee has his or her work cut out. And unless you're a luddite (no offense to any luddites out there...), a big part of that learning will involve a host of IT systems and processes. 

Last week, I wrote a story about seven fundamental tips to help you start off on the right foot in a government job. Today, I’m continuing that idea but turning an eye toward technology. When you start at your department or agency, you’ll be awash in new IT systems. Some will be familiar, others…well others might make you mad.

Been using Gmail the last couple years? Time to grow up and start hating Outlook like the rest of us. Have your files neatly organized on your home computer? Just wait until you see your office’s share drive. Think sending email is simple? Just wait until you draw the ire of a higher up because you either did…or did not…CC them on an email. New employee, a magical world awaits!

Technology 101

  1. What’s your telework policy? Telework is one of the many wonderful things technology makes possible. You get to stay home and work in your underwear and the government gets to save money (Win-win! It’s the patriotic thing to do...). It can only be done if you know how to access your email remotely and the network via VPN (Virtual Private Network). First, learn your agency’s telework policy (is it allowed, expected and how often) and then work with IT and your manager to make sure you have everything you need.
  2. Study your website. Take a look at the public face of your D/A (department and agency). See what information is publicly available. Look at recent press releases from your public affairs office and follow social media accounts for your organization and its leadership.
  3. Know your social media policy. Some agencies are very big on social media. For instance, FEMA has really pushed social media in the last several years, seeing it as a great situational awareness tool for first responders. Other organizations, especially those dealing with sensitive information, would prefer you keep a light footprint and stay off at work. Know what is and isn’t acceptable to your agency—both professionally and personally.
  4. Set up your desk and mobile phones--and use them. Never underestimate the power of the telephone. Picking up the phone and calling your colleagues is an easy way to enhance your productivity (avoid spending more than 15 minutes on any one email), make personal connections and minimize the chance someone will mistake your tone as harsh--one of the key reasons we spend so much time carefully editing our emails. Better yet, whenever possible, go talk to colleagues in person. 
  5. Master the share drive. The only task more daunting than learning to talk like a fed is learning to navigate the share drive like one. A purgatory for old Word docs, spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks, the share drive is the office no man’s land. The proverbial needle in the haystack lies within. Make your own folder and commit to familiarizing yourself with important folder paths. Make desktop shortcuts as a crutch until you’ve learned to navigate efficiently.
  6. Know who to “CC” on email. You will be stunned by how quickly you can run afoul of office politics via email. Copy the wrong person, or don’t copy the right person, and you might unknowingly step right in the middle of a messy turf war. Attempt to be respectful in all communications, apologize profusely—and proceed with caution. Doing informational interviews can give you needed perspective on who needs to be, or wants to be, copied on what and when.
  7. Learn to love your specialized IT systems. Get familiar with your department’s intranet. If you want to really surprise people, tell them you have a passion for SharePoint—and actually use it. Ask for a crash course in how to use your expensing system. If you’ll be traveling, learn how to use Govtrip. Every office is different—ask your supervisor what you need to know and, if you have trouble using a system, ask a colleague or try giving your IT department a call.
  8. Read the latest guidance. Three months ago the White House released its Digital Government Strategy and in late August it released its Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) guidance. Knowing these policies will help you understand what's expected of government technology users and help you be a leader in tech best practices. 
  9. CYA (Cover Your A$$). When using technology in the public sector, remember that everything you write in an email is subject to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. There's also the growing, and very real, threat of cyber attacks. With that in mind, be responsible--resist the urge (strong though it may be) to send silly cat videos to your entire office--and remember everything you do can be accessed by others. Additionally, in navigating your own bureacracy, it's important to keep a record of your words for instances of interpersonal problems. 

I'm positive I've missed a lot. What other recommendations do you have for a new employee trying to learn the ropes of office IT systems? 

Next time: How to use your "new person" status to push the envelopes and win over colleagues

Last time: Seven Fundamental Tips for Starting a New Government Job

(Image via James Thew/

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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