Insight by Deloitte

How agencies can lead their workforce from a crisis into the future of work

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In March 2020, something many experts have spent their careers claiming is impossible actually came to pass: the majority of the federal government transitioned to telework and working in remote, virtual teams, nearly overnight. This monumental shift happened in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but its repercussions are expected to ripple far into the future as the federal government and its workforce adapt to the changing nature of work.

Jacqui Winters, Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said that while a crisis may have prompted this shift, it’s the recovery period immediately after that presents an opportunity for federal agencies to look at the business of government differently.

“This trend of the future of work, how jobs are changing, how a professional’s experiences and expectations are changing, how government customer needs are changing, and the criticality of being ever more agile in the future are all really significant. Those agencies that are prepared to do that are taking the right steps now to serve their mission and meet citizens’ needs – whether that is in person or through technology – and they will be more resilient after the pandemic.”, Winters said. “Many of these things that are being applied now will be optimized and employed as critical components of the way government operates in the future. And with that, we hope that we can make the best of the situation to begin to learn from this situation and build toward the new era that’s ahead of us around digital disruption and workforce disruption.”

Not every job is appropriate for telework. But many federal agencies are finding out that it can be done on a far greater scale than had been anticipated. And this is an opportunity for those agencies to take a look at what works, what doesn’t, and where greater mobility and flexibility can be applied to develop an engagement model for the future of the federal workforce. To be sure, some tasks are getting done differently than before, and some aren’t getting done at all. This may help agencies reconsider what activities can be automated and where workers can focus their time differently on the mission work that matters most.

Some agencies and teams were already ahead of the curve. Those that leaned into telework early and put significant thought into what their employees would need to effectively work remotely were better positioned when this crisis began, and may be able to move to long-term transformation faster.  Employees and agencies alike are discovering new challenges, tools and resources to fit this new paradigm.

“Those agencies that respond to that will have a competitive edge when it comes to attracting talent. We have seen consistently that there is a growing interest in and demand for more flexibility and more options for a number of reasons,” said Lucy Melvin, Human Capital Senior Manager at Deloitte Consulting LLP. “People are looking for more flexibility and how they balance their work with their other obligations in life.”

This can apply to everything from employees who want to pursue further education to agencies looking to leverage a more geographically diverse workforce. Flexibility is a key as agencies seek to expand their talent pool and attract employees.

“Successful remote work and virtual teams depend on effective communication, clear alignment around goals and outcomes, and equipping staff with the tools and resources they need to be successful in a virtual environment. That muscle is there in everyone,” said Jacqui Winters. “It’s just getting that opportunity to flex that muscle and feeling comfortable doing it. When we explain that to our federal clients, they see telework does not need to be a barrier. Everyone can telework and can do it well.”

As with so many other things in the federal space, and especially revolving around technology, what is most important are the people and the processes, not the technology itself. The tools and capacity to make this possible exist, or can be built. But the culture has to embrace them, from Directors and Senior Executives to managers and supervisors to the frontline workers. And this is an opportunity for that to happen.

“One thing that’s really comes to light is how important it is to recognize a telework policy doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” said Melvin. “It intersects with cybersecurity policy, it intersects with the culture and HR policy of an organization, as well as all of those things around recruitment, and what types of work are being prioritized, and how the organization is monitoring performance to hold staff accountable for outcomes and detect performance challenges. And so it’s really worth seeing telework as a big — but certainly not the only — lever for agencies to have this discussion around what things they need to change and what things might continue on after all this is done.”



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