How you need to prepare for the long-term of a remote workforce

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No matter what happens on the viral front, the workplace is not going to look like 2019. In early 2020, agencies hastily set up remote working capabilities for people suddenly forced to telework. My next guest says, now agencies need to think about how this is going to work long term. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin heard insights from Deniece Peterson, director of federal market analysis at Deltek,

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Deniece, good to have you back.

Deniece Peterson: Thanks for having me, Tom.

Tom Temin: And I guess we could say this is also true of any organization that had to suddenly accommodate lots of teleworkers, including contractors. Fair to say?

Deniece Peterson: Oh, definitely. It was a major shift for contractors and government employees kind of going through the same pain at the same time. So I think now we sort of have a new normal, and both are trying to figure out what that looks like from their side.

Tom Temin: Alright, so as you point out, agencies put in all this VPN capacity, and maybe now they’re doing remote desktop options without the VPN. And we’re all still two years into this learning some of these tools for collaboration. What’s your sense of what has to happen now, to make this something that’s not only permanent, but also acceptable as a work methodology?

Deniece Peterson: Well, I think there’s a lot of things that are that contractors in government aren’t thinking about. Of course, both are thinking about the technology side, right, and especially security and privacy. And kind of going back to just kind of make sure, during the rush of the initial push for COVID, you know, a lot of technology was put into place to facilitate remote work. Now, they kind of have to go back and just make sure that it’s set up in the most secure way, especially as we have employees of all stripes making it known that they like this, the option of it, right. And so having it be more permanent, that means that, you know, we have to look at policies and oversight, the technology and security and all those different pieces that — you know how government works, as well as I do, Tom — that there has to be policies put into place for kind of institutionalizing this. From the contractor side, I think that they are looking at how, especially business development, how they can leverage the more virtual kind of networking environment that we’re in right now.

Tom Temin: Yeah, that’s really an important point. Because a lot of business development spade work, you might say, took place at events where people were in-person. And they would walk up to the speaker and say, hey, can I get back to you on this such and such a thing, because my company does such and such. And that was kind of how they got their sowing done to reap later on. So are there techniques? I mean, this is a big business issue, this kind of lack of personal interaction in-person. And we thought it would be back by now. But as you say, people prefer virtual for a lot of these things, even when everyone’s safe to be near. So what are some ways contractors can do BD in this manner?

Deniece Peterson: I’m hearing more positive than negative feedback around this virtual business development environment. You know, some folks are really starting to take advantage of the fact that they have a more expanded reach now than they did with face-to-face meeting. So they’ve migrated to this blend of remote webinars, conferences, meetings, and then a few local face-to-face-meetings. But it’s allowed more of a focus on collaboration and the goals of the discussion rather than logistics. You also have companies that, when we were doing those big industry conferences, they had difficult decisions to make, because maybe they could send one or two people because of the expense, the time, all that. Now with virtual, multiple people can attend, they can attend many different events and kind of identify those government folks that they want to engage with. And then I’m also hearing from the government side where a similar sentiment of we’re getting more done to discussions are more focused, I’m able to talk to more people, and also kind of more better time management, and getting contractors’ questions around RFIs, RFPs and all of that answered a lot faster, because these aren’t, don’t have one-hour, two-hour commutes. You know, they have more time to really engage with contractors. So I’m hearing more positive than negative.

Tom Temin: Yeah, so in other words, it sounds like when you sum it all up, it’s a more efficient methodology now than we had where people would travel, like you say, sometimes 45 minutes, stand around for 20 minutes getting a badge, having lunch, and then eventually talking.

Deniece Peterson: It’s that, and it’s also inclusion, right. Because we have a lot of companies, especially small companies, that live outside of the beltway or those government hotspots that couldn’t participate. Right. So now it’s much easier for those companies to participate in and make those relationships then, you know, pre-COVID.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Deniece Peterson, senior director of federal market analysis at Deltek. And I want to focus on the security and privacy issues you mentioned earlier. What are some of the privacy concerns — people seeing into other people’s living rooms? Or is that what the issue is, or?

Deniece Peterson: I mean, I’m sure that’s the part of the privacy thing. But if you’ve got information being shared electronically between parties that are no longer within federal facilities or contractor facilities that have complied with government requirements, you introduced the potential, right, for some security concerns. And so of course, at the beginning of COVID, we saw a lot of VPNs. But as we know, agencies already had security issues, even when, you know, pre-COVID, right. So the concern now is kind of shoring up those foundational issues that were already there and making sure they’re filling gaps introduced by this new hybrid working environment.

Tom Temin: And one of the issues is documents that are subject to privacy concerns and security concerns. And they are leaving, in some instances, the walled garden, if you will, of the federal network, because of these collaboration tools, which are over the internet and lord knows what network people are using — even their home networks, which are, have varying degrees of security. So what are some of the still unturned security topics, you think, that agencies need to focus on?

Deniece Peterson: I do think what you’re saying around document management and privacy, we already know that the government has huge push for digitization and records management and continuing that push so that less of those physical documents have to be handled, because it’s easier to secure, you know, electronically, and they’re already working building in the technology to do that. So I think that’s that’s part of the strategy.

Tom Temin: Because I asked the IRS Taxpayer Advocate the other day about the fact that they have millions of documents, paper documents, that have to be handled and processed. And it’s difficult for people to get into the facilities and get through this backlog. Almost as a joke I said, well, can’t they bundle up all the documents that have come in tax returns, send them home to people, let them process them at home, and then ship them back? And she basically said, not a chance, because of the danger, you know, a family member could wander in or the mailman, you know, knowing that they’re big stacks of tax documentation floating around, really not even remotely feasible. And I guess that’s maybe an issue, to some degree, a lot of agencies face.

Deniece Peterson: Yeah, I think that the risk there is higher for some agencies compared to others, right. And so there’s so many unknowns with people working from home. Like you mentioned, someone’s kid may snatch paper off the desk, and it’s gone forever, or the dog ate the document, or someone came in to do work on your house, and they’re seeing documents that they shouldn’t be seeing. And there’s really no way for agencies to really fully manage that other than to start, you know, moving towards digitizing and secure and those things. But even then, I think there’s always going to be security risks, but it’s definitely kind of one of the major pillars that they’re focused on right now with what looks like to be the future for all of us, which is a hybrid model.

Tom Temin: I guess implicit in all of this, too, is the growing convergence of cyber and physical security threats. And with people, you know, in an office, you can button up the office. But with people scattered, they are individuals in homes. And you can find out now much more about people than you could years earlier. Of course we had phone books that listed the address, but nevertheless, I think that convergence is dawning on agencies. Would you agree?

Deniece Peterson: I would, because years and years ago, you know, the agencies have allowed eight employees to telework for a while. They’ve been trying to increase the percentage of folks eligible for that. But for the most part, those were employees that were kind of within commuting distance, right. And so over time, especially after COVID, we have employees that have kind of scattered to all ends of the earth, right? So that physical security is definitely an issue because the scope and the scale of the boundaries that they have to be worried about are much larger now.

Tom Temin: I remember seeing Robert Muller, the FBI director at the time, in a barber shop. And I thought, what’s he doing in a barber shop? Director of the FBI, anything could happen there.

Deniece Peterson: Yeah, they’re they’re people too, right? And they’re carrying papers and engaging with people and spilling coffee on things. It’s real.

Tom Temin: It’s real, and it’s continuing, then, to sum it up. All right. Deniece Peterson is senior director of federal market analysis at Deltek. Thanks so much.

Deniece Peterson: Thanks for having me.

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