The Government Publishing Office is out early with a whole new post-pandemic work policy

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Nearly everyone has been wondering what federal teleworking policies will look like after the pandemic. One agency has put a stake in the ground on that very question. And it’s a Congressional agency: the Government Publishing Office. Federal Drive with Tom Temin got all the details from GPO director Hugh Halpern and GPO’s Chief Human Capital Officer Dan Mielke.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And let’s begin at the beginning. Mr. Halperin, what is the new telework policy for GPO? And how is it different from what you had before the pandemic?

Hugh Halpern: The policy has changed from from policy that generally it allowed telework, but it was sort of in a grudging way to fully embracing telework and remote work as we’re exiting the COVID pandemic. And I gotta say, there were a lot of really, really terrible things through the pandemic. But one of the really shining things that came through was how our team pulled together, was able to shift to 100%, maximum telework and all of our telework capable folks really stepped up increased productivity. And the thing that we found is that if you’re doing something that works and works well, we need to do more of that. And that’s what this policy is really all about. It’s about taking those things from the pandemic that worked, and embracing them, and really making them part of the baseline work environment here at GPO.

Tom Temin: And what percentage of the workforce still has to be there to operate the machinery for producing the documents?

Hugh Halpern: About a third of our 1,500-1,600 employees were able to telework through the pandemic. The rest of our production staff was really here, pretty much throughout the pandemic. We still had to turn out the the Congressional Record and Federal Register. And those teams were here in the building doing their work. We had to implement some safeguards, but by and large, they were they were here throughout getting the work done. We’ve got probably about 500 folks who are eligible to telework and this new environment, and we’ll see how many take this up. But I think initial indications are that a significant population of folks will.

Tom Temin: Dan, you must be in touch with other Chief Human Capital Officers, and maybe both branches of government tell us the implications of this and what you’re hearing from your colleagues.

Dan Mielke: For us, this is a game changer for recruitment. As you mentioned earlier, we have a large portion of our workforce that has to come into the building to work, but allowing the folks that can telework to telework – and we’re also offering remote work for the first time – so that really expands our ability to recruit not only in the local area, but also throughout the 48 contiguous states.

Tom Temin: Because that leads to another question. The GPO is noted for having these big headquarters side by side buildings right there on North Capitol Street. And it tends to be a very down the hill from the Capitol dome, DC centered agency. Do you have people out of DC, and do you anticipate maybe this would allow a lot of the digital and expertise that you need around the country from having to come to DC?

Hugh Halpern: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, we had during the pandemic, we had an employee in human capital that had a family emergency. And it looked like the employee was going to have to take a job with another agency in another area, or maybe even resign, but we were able to work out the remote work for her. And it’s worked out fantastic. So yeah, we absolutely believe this is going to be a game changer for us.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Dan Mielke, he’s the Chief Human Capital Officer. And with the director Hugh Halperin, both of the Government Publishing Office. And just so we make sure we know exactly what is the specific policy that anyone who does not need to be in the building for mechanical reasons can telework at will, or remote work at will? Dan?

Dan Mielke: Well, it’s really a discussion between the employee and the employee supervisor. So there will be opportunities, I believe we have one group of 17 individuals in a work unit, there’s going to work 100% telework. In our case in human capital, because we have so many employees that have to come into the building, we have to have a presence here in the building. So we’re gonna do a hybrid for a majority of individuals working in human capital, but it’s really a negotiation. You mentioned it’s like a dial so we can dial it up or we can dial it down whatever works best for that business unit.

Tom Temin: Let me ask you this Hugh – are you concerned that some of the collaboration or the easy communications just by walking door to door could be hampered in some way? I mean, how do you overcome the fact that you’d like to just ask a quick question to someone that you may not because they’re not there and there’s friction of calling them or getting on a Zoom call – that kind of thing?

Hugh Halpern: This is going to be a an issue that a lot of agencies, a lot of businesses, are going to face going forward and we did face during the during the pandemic. There’s no doubt it’s different, but that doesn’t matter. really mean, it’s bad. So the one thing that I tell all the members of our executive team is that the key to remote work or telework is you’ve got to over communicate, you’ve got to communicate way more than you did when you were in person. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it can spark other kinds of collaboration, other kinds of conversations that might not happen if everybody was just sort of sitting in their, in their cube and focused on what was in front of them. And one of the things I think we’re going to take a look at as this policy evolves, as we see how this all works out, is what does our physical space here at GPO look like? Not in terms of the four corners of the building, but what do our interior spaces look like, as we go into these office spaces and do the periodic refurbishments that you always do? I think there’s probably going to be less concentration on gigantic cube farms where you can’t see anybody’s head over the top of the partition, and more on how do we provide space for folks who are in that hybrid environment where they’re coming in for two days a week or three days a week? And how do we create spaces that really foster that kind of collaboration so on those days when folks are physically in the building, they are focused on what it takes to collaborate?

Tom Temin: Sure. And just backing out here for the bigger picture as a congressional agency, what discretion did you and Dan have in fashioning this policy and what did your congressional overseers have to say about it?

Hugh Halpern: The good news is we had a lot of flexibility. The other great thing is we have a really, really great relationship with our congressional oversight committees. The way I describe it to folks is, you know, I’m the CEO of this nearly billion dollar publishing enterprise and inside the government and, and Congress very much as my my board of directors. And we had a lot of communication about this. I mean, this is, this is probably the single biggest change in the way GPO works. Since we started putting information online, we were very upfront with Congress. And while we didn’t need explicit permission to to make this change, we were talking to them all one way. And frankly, we were talking with our employees who really, really liked this our teammates, and with our union partners, as well, we’ve tried to craft this, this policy in a way that it’s really a win win for everybody. It’s a win for the agency, because our teammates are more productive and more flexible, so that they can serve our customers better. And it’s better for our teammates, because they don’t have to struggle with the commute. And they don’t have all of the negatives that come with having to schlep downtown every day and swap home. Look, are they’re probably going to be bumps in the road. We’ll see. But I think there’s a strong commitment from everybody to work through those and figure out really what, what works best for everybody. And our initial indication is that this is going to be a game changer for GPO.

Tom Temin: Dan, a final question – as the Chief Human Capital Officer, what will you be watching to make sure it’s working well, and that people on both sides management and the employees who are teleworking or remote working are meeting everyone’s objectives?

Dan Mielke: I just want to say thank you to the director and the deputy director for allowing us to expand this telework program. So it is new, and there’s a lot of questions. So we’re actively engaging with the employees, managers and supervisors and responding to their questions. In addition to our policy, we also published a remote work guide, which allows the employee and the supervisor to kind of go step by step on how to determine if remote work is right for them. And then also how to apply for remote work and get that approved. But really, it’s a communication, it’s such a new policy, it’s so expansive, that we wanted to make sure that we’re responding to their questions and helping them through this process.

Tom Temin: Dan Mielke is the Chief Human Capital Officer of the Government Publishing Office. Thanks so much.

Dan Mielke: Thank you, Tom.

Tom Temin: And Hugh Halperin is the GPO Director. Good to have you back. Thanks so much.

Hugh Halpern: Thanks, Tom. It’s always great to be back.

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