As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, federal agencies face the daunting challenge of protecting the health of their workforce while simultaneously preserving mission readiness and operational effectiveness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidance to reduce the spread of the virus. However, agencies also need to take proactive steps to reduce the pandemic’s impact on operations. Sick leave, remote work, restricted travel, cancelled activities and other implications can unwittingly place critical programs and operations at risk. Mission effectiveness will depend upon how quickly and effectively agencies can adapt to the dynamics of the pandemic. Key to success will be how well an organization can understand itself, anticipate the changing environment, and proactively act in response. An agency’s data is fundamental to this process. Those agencies that can connect, interpret, and act upon their enterprise data, such as personnel, financial and logistical will be best positioned to successfully adapt to a rapidly unfolding crisis, one that could last months.
We’re recommending an approach to drive mission readiness in the midst of the crisis: ACTION.
Act decisively by providing clear guidance to your workforce. Make hard decisions grounded in facts. Understand your data, your workforce, employees impacted, programs at risk, etc. Extract the facts from your data to answer important questions, including: How many employees have traveled to countries outside of their home base? How many use mass transit? How many are in high risks groups? Don’t let misinformation or lack of information drive operations. Gain an enterprise view of your data and make data-driven decisions.
Connect and communicate with your workforce in new and unconventional ways. When employees are boxed in at home, think outside the box to effectively reach them. For example, make tough decisions about conferences and training events early on. Proactively convert them to virtual events via webinars. Create interactive learning modules with engaging videos. Develop compelling infographics to train employees and communicate new policies and programs.
Think beyond first order effects. Plan for second and third order effects. While the threat of Coronavirus-related illness is the ultimate issue, second and third order consequences may impact mission readiness on an even larger scale. Consider this scenario: If 50% of a hospital’s employees have school-aged children and school districts decide to close for several months, then the employees may need to stay home, keeping them from delivering care. Or if a family member attends a conference where someone contracted the virus, that employee may need to be quarantined as a precautionary measure to protect the rest of the agency workforce.
Invent a new way to work. Prepare employees and systems for remote work to ensure continuity of operations. Publish links to the tools and business applications employees need to connect remotely, provide training and user’s guides, replace in-person meetings with conference calls or WebEx/Skype meetings, and collaborate via real-time messaging between teams. GSA is leading by example, publishing its list of tools for effective telework.
Open the lens to the data across your organization. Gain enterprise visibility into your employee data to effectively manage appropriate coverage across the workforce. Assess current needs against anticipated absences and the program impact of remote work. Connect to your HR dataset to understand the depth and range of critical skillsets across your workforce and identify vulnerable areas so that contingency plans can be built. Address important questions, including: What critical work cannot be performed remotely? What policies and training do I need to provide to enable a remote workforce? How do I backfill positions when employees are out sick? By gaining visibility to data across the enterprise, agencies will be empowered to make data-driven decisions and inform what-if scenarios as workforce conditions change due to telework, illness and quarantines.
Navigate the new normal. As the Coronavirus crisis evolves, continue to assess conditions, review the data, and remain agile.
While the current crisis may necessitate the physical separation of federal workers, taking deliberate ACTION grounded in data-driven insights will allow agencies to stay connected in new and innovative ways to continue to drive mission success.
Rick “Ozzie” Nelson is senior vice president & general manager for the public sector at MicroStrategy.