GPO puts its stamp on hybrid workforce model for federal employees

How’s the return to the office going at your federal agency? Not great, according to the more than 3,200 feds who responded to our recent office reentry surve...

How’s the return to the office going at your federal agency? Not great, according to the more than 3,200 feds who responded to our recent office reentry survey.

More than half of the survey respondents felt dissatisfied with their agency’s return-to-office plans. Ditto for feds who said a mandatory office reentry has made them less productive.

Nearly half of all respondents also said agency leaders aren’t listening to their concerns.

Agencies that listen to their employees, meanwhile, are writing the playbook for what the “future of work” can look like across the federal government.

The Government Publishing Office, for example, still about a third of its workforce still out on full-time telework or remote work — that’s about 500 employees. GPO, adopting a hybrid work environment, is in no hurry to bring them back.

GPO’s Chief Human Capital Officer Dan Mielke said the agency is offering 100% telework for its white-collar employees in the D.C. area, unless they’re needed on a specific day to come into the office.

Mielke said GPO didn’t have a strong telework culture before the pandemic. But like many agencies, GPO’s workforce proved to be more productive while out of mandatory telework.

“For me, it was like, ‘Well, the folks don’t really have to come back, as long as they’re willing to continue the support level that we have.’ We just don’t need to come back to the office to provide that,” Mielke said.

Other elements of GPO’s hybrid workforce include remote employees who live outside the D.C. locality area. If they have to travel to GPO’s central office in D.C., Mielke said the agency will pay for that travel.

Some employees, meanwhile, are coming into the office one or more days a week, but work out of the office the rest of the week.

An employee’s level of telework eligibility is still up to their supervisors. But Mielke said having only essential employees in the office for much of the pandemic made it clear who needed to be in the office regularly.

“We didn’t do a lot of telework before the pandemic, and we didn’t really have the systems in place to support doing our work from a telework position,” Mielke said. “Of course, the pandemic changed all that, and we quickly built up our systems so we can do a lot of things that you probably could have done before the pandemic telework, but we just didn’t design the work that way for the workforce.”

It’s more than a nice-to-have. Mielke said about half of GPO’s workforce will be eligible to retire in the next five years, and that implementing an unpopular office reentry plan might trigger the ominous “retirement cliff,” or mass exodus of retirement-eligible feds that has long been looming, but yet to actually materialize.

“I’ve heard that talk for almost 15 years, and it just seems like it never happened. Well, at GPO it’s going to happen.”

Federal employees broadly, and GPO employees specifically, don’t usually retire as soon as they’re eligible. Mielke said that for GPO, most workers stay for an additional two or three years.

“We know that we have about eight years to train up folks and get them ready to, to step into those shoes. And it’s going to be a steady flow of retirements up during that eight years as well,” he said.

Stewart Lane, GPO’s Chief of Workforce Development, Education & Training, said the agency also shifted its training model from in-person to include virtual classroom training and web-based training.

“We realized we really have to change what we’re doing. Our business model needs to change, we still have an important job to do providing training to the employees at GPO,” Lane said.

GPO made this shift possible by acquiring a new learning management system from ExpertusONE. The system allows the agency to pull monthly reports and send them to the Office of Personnel Management to comply with governmentwide training reporting requirements.

Ramesh Ramani, CEO of ExpertusONE, said the system allows employees to receive training in the format that works best for them.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re training the leadership or you’re training other sorts of employees. the content itself can be in a variety of formats. It can be video, it can be audio, it can be a book, it can be a manual,” Ramani said.

Mielke said GPO’s new system also allows the agency to be transparent with staff on personnel decisions, including pay adjustments and any changes to an employee’s personnel record.

“As the Chief Human Capital Officer, I wanted to lift that mystery of what human capital is doing.  Every action we take in human capital has something to do with an employee, so we felt I felt that the employee needs to be able to see those actions,” he said.

While much of the agency’s HR functions are telework-friendly, Mielke said in some cases, in-person works best.

“The general rule for human capital is if a customer wants to meet you face to face, because for example, when an individual retires, it’s very personal. It’s a big step in their life. And sometimes they want to see that benefit specialist face-to-face to go over the paperwork. We’ll come in, and we’ll meet with that customer that day,” he said.

GPO is also training its workforce on how to adjust to a hybrid workforce environment.

“It’s not just the supervisor trusting the employee. It’s the employee trusting the supervisor — are you going to be able to communicate with me in this remote posture to where, you know, I can continue to do a good job?” Mielke said.

Managing the hybrid workforce also comes down to setting expectations for the employees who do have to come into the office.

Mielke said that about half of the agency’s workforce is highly skilled tradespeople and other blue-collar positions that have to come into the office more regularly. The rest are administrative and white-collar professional employees.

“What we had to do over this period was really build the confidence in the folks that have to come in every day, that the folks that are teleworking can do their jobs, and do them well, and provide that same level of support to them that we were providing when we were in the building,” Mielke said.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Robert O’Shaughnessy

The first computer mouse was carved out of wood and had just one button.

Source: DARPA

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