OPM finding ways to better engage agency’s internal hybrid workforce

The Office of Personnel Management added tools, training opportunities for its internal staff, in an effort to better engage a hybrid workforce.

The Office of Personnel Management is ramping up work on IT modernization for both its main website and federal retirement services, but those aren’t the only changes coming from the agency’s Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Aside from the technological changes, OPM is looking at ways to improve employee retention and satisfaction for its internal workforce. A lot of that effort involves adjusting to a hybrid workplace, something that’s become a more permanent part of OPM’s office structure.

Having a hybrid workforce — a mix of both in-person and teleworking employees — changes the way, for instance, OPM conducts its staff meetings.

“I think one of the mistakes that a lot of us made in the early days of COVID, is we kept thinking, ‘maybe another month, and then things would go back to the way they were,’” OPM CIO Guy Cavallo said in an interview with Federal News Network. “Therefore, I don’t think people adjusted the way they held meetings [and] the way that they held conferences.”

Especially in larger staff meetings, teleworking employees still held onto the idea that they were spectators and didn’t feel as connected during meetings as they did in person, Cavallo said.

So, OPM made a change in a seemingly small way, by adding interactive polls to the meetings. It’s a technical capability that the agency’s CIO office developed for every OPM department.

“We’re instantly getting feedback from the audience,” Cavallo said. “We’re changing our meeting and our response to deal with that feedback, so everybody feels more connected.”

It wasn’t just about creating the capability, though. Agency leaders also had to ask the right questions in the virtual polls, and respond to them in real time, to actually engage employees.

For example, in Cavallo’s most recent all-hands meeting, he used the polling function to ask everyone to rank which types of “soft training” they’d want to do in 2023. With the top five responses in hand, Cavallo said he’s planning to offer at least the most popular option, and hopefully all five, to OPM employees throughout the course of this year.

“You have to realize it’s a different type of meeting … You have to work to engage the remote attendees [and] ask them questions. If they’re sitting quietly, in addition to the polling, bring them into the meeting, make sure that you’re getting their two cents on it. Otherwise, they’re going to end up … really feeling distant from the team. And I think it’s very important that we make sure that our hybrid and remote workers are fully engaged as much as we can,” Cavallo said.

OPM has seen some of these efforts come to fruition already, by way of the results of the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). The agency’s positive responses increased by up to 30% for some of the survey questions. The positive response rate “soared” for one question in particular: “Would you recommend this office as a place as a good place to work others?”

“It’s almost unheard of as a jump,” Cavallo said.

Pushing forward on early-career initiatives

In another internal agency effort, OPM’s CIO office hired 18 interns during the summer of 2022. It was a significant number for the department, Cavallo said, and something he plans to replicate, or possibly expand, for this coming summer.

It was about more than just bringing interns in the door to put the experience on a future resume. Cavallo said he was very intentional about the type of work the interns did, to ensure they got the experience they were really looking for.

“I didn’t want them just filing paperwork or getting coffee, I wanted to make sure that we integrated them everywhere,” he said. “We spread them across cybersecurity, across network operations across cloud operations across development. I didn’t just look for a certain type of intern. We wanted to get them exposure across the whole thing.”

At the end of the summer, the efforts to give the interns more meaningful work paid off.

“When I met with them, once we finished the program, [all but two of the interns] said that after this experience, they would definitely consider a federal career,” Cavallo said.

In addition to expanding internship opportunities, the CIO office at OPM is also trying to lower the required General Schedule levels for individuals to apply for open positions. After several years, positions can sometimes slowly slide up the GS scale, making early-career applicants unqualified to apply for the roles.

Now when there are vacancies in the office, Cavallo said he looks at the possibility of reducing the grade and establishing a career ladder for more early-career individuals to grow in the roles.

“We’ve been doing that so that people that are newer in the workforce have an opportunity to join,” he said. “If you just leave all your jobs at the high end, you’re very limited to only hiring longtime, experienced people.”

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s still important to recognize the older and often more experienced employees in a federal agency, Cavallo said, amid the increased focus on hiring early-career talent. One way the CIO office accomplished that was by making cloud training available to all employees and covering the costs of employees’ cloud certifications. As a result, about 40 people at OPM became cloud-certified in the last year.

“They’re seeing that we care about what they’re doing. We might have suggestions to help them, or other improvements. I think it’s the whole package — you have to deal with both [the younger and the older workforce],” Cavallo said. “I think leading by example is a great way to show that. And then we have to bring in the early career talent, because at some point, we all are going to be aged out and moving on to retirement.”



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