As many federal agencies begin to recall some federal employees back to traditional workplaces—at least part-time—remote work is likely to factor into federal agencies’ plans for at least the near future.
But to maximize mission delivery, federal customer experience and the capabilities of its workforce, agencies will have to rethink how people work, according to federal officials and industry leaders speaking Monday at the GITEC Emerging Technology conference held in Annapolis, Md.
“At the end of the day, we need to have an IT and HR alliance,” said Traci DiMartini, chief human capital officer for the General Services Administration. During the pandemic, GSA successfully onboarded more than 1,600 additional employees remotely, in large part to exceptional communication between the agency’s chief information officer and HR functions.
A pandemic hire herself, DiMartini said GSA “did not lose any productivity during the pandemic,” despite shifting to remote work. Collectively, DiMartini said she believes partnerships between agency CIO shops and HR offices will better maximize recruitment of new employees, retention of existing personnel and the effectiveness of agency workforces. These issues will be magnified as emerging technologies impact future workplaces and in the battle for talent with the private sector.
“What needs to be done are investments in the IT and HR pieces so we can train people how to use these tools,” DiMartini said. “We have to be thoughtful, having discussions with partners in the IT space to say what is going to be needed to connect people and keep them productive, whether they are working at home or on the road, and making sure we know how to measure the results.”
Matisha Montgomery, chief learning officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said managers and senior leaders will have to change how they engage employees. Water cooler conversations and strolls through the office won’t cut it in a modern hybrid work environment, she said.
“You have to meet people where they are,” Montgomery said. “In this remote hybrid environment, how do we ensure you’re going to speak to everyone and continuously build a relationship with your team? Finding out what works for each person and helping them get that is a big piece of it.”
Montgomery added that bringing people back to work should be done strategically, not under blanket policies.
“There are many forces at play here. We have to bring people back to offices, but let the work drive those decisions, not political forces,” she said, adding that returns to work should be done in an “equitable way.”
Nina Bianchi, solutions principal for Medallia’s public sector practice, said she advises agencies to consider PAT—an acronym that stands for people, approach and technology. When thinking about people, one should consider “behaviors, mindset and every-day activities that make a difference for people.”
In considering approaches, think “through the art of transformation and journey, building out layers of an arc of transformation.” In approaching technology, Bianchi said agencies often waste talent on tedious labor, like filling out spreadsheets.
“If you’re still crunching paper, you have talent that could be doing other work,” she said.