Episode 5: US Federal Employees Look Set for Permanent Hybrid Work

June 9th, 2021 by Yvonne Harris

In this episode of Welcome to the New Normal, we discuss how the US government looks set to make hybrid working permanent for many federal employees and contractors. However, research shows that if the hybrid model is going to be a success, it needs to be organized in a “human-centric” way to protect both the well-being and productivity of workers.

Tune in to the Welcome to the New Normal audio podcast now and follow along with the script below.

News

Biden administration moves toward making the pandemic work-from-home experiment permanent for many federal workers

Government bureaucracies are slow-moving beasts.

But there might be a big change underway for the massive American Federal workforce – a whopping 2 million people – one that would have been unthinkable before the pandemic.

So what are the changes being planned?

According to a report in the Washington Post, the US plans to massively accelerate hybrid work for its employees and contractors, balancing time in the office and time working from home.

It’s a big shift for government employees, often working highly sensitive jobs, who need close supervision…

Plenty of people are going to resist giving these functionaries the freedom of working from home…

But the momentum is there.

In 2020, the share of the workforce teleworking every day rose from 3 percent before the pandemic to 59 percent at its peak last year.

The wheels were already in motion before the pandemic. Obama started a move towards remote working, but these changes ended with the Trump administration.

Even at the Pentagon, the share of civilian and active-duty employees working from home leaped to 75 percent

And it’s been highly popular. Managers reported that productivity didn’t suffer, and employees enjoyed the flexibility.

It’s also likely to have a big impact on recruitment, up till now heavily focussed on Washington DC, with more job availability across the country.

Now, according to the Washington Post, the move, expected to become official in June, would also appeal to younger workers in particular and help expand their talent pool.

But as we’ve seen in previous episodes, it’s the younger people who often crave an office to go to, to mingle with peers, for the space, and for grabbing opportunities, both to innovate, and for self-advancement.

Research

Gartner HR Research Shows Organizations Are Eroding Employee Performance and Well-Being with Virtualized Office-Centric Design

Even as behemoths like the US administration shift to hybrid working, there needs to be an accompanying move to more “human-centric” models, according to the latest research by Gartner.

What does “human-centric” mean?

Well, the current virtualized working models, it seems, are carbon copies of in-person office practices, duplicated for employees working from home.

And these, according to Gartner, are damaging employees’ well-being and productivity

Why is that? Well, the culprits appear to be more intrusive monitoring, more meetings, and harder-to-meet deadlines.

And as we all know, it’s been an exhausting transition.

According to  Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice “Force-fitting a design created for a different environment exacerbates fatigue, and fatigue impacts many talent outcomes.

“When employees experience high levels of fatigue, employee performance decreases by up to 33%, feelings of inclusion decrease by up to 44%, and employees are up to 54% less likely to remain with their employer.”

So how can companies overcome these challenges?

Well first, they need to provide employee-driven flexibility

What does this mean? It means empowering employees to choose where, when, and how they work.

To do this successfully means destigmatizing flexible working by making it the default – not the exception (which will be a tough call for many companies)

And it means developing principles – rather than policies – around flexible working.

In fact, the Gartner survey found that organizations with high levels of flexibility are almost three times more likely to see high employee performance.

Second, it means enabling intentional collaboration

So what is Intentional collaboration? This is the famous water-cooler chat, or employees working physically together on projects, which is one of the main drivers of innovation, and something employers still see as the number one reason for getting workers back into the office.

Among employees whose organizations have high levels of intentional collaboration, 75% also report having high levels of team innovation.”

And thirdly it means driving empathy-based management

What’s that?

The upheaval of the last year introduced a whole new set of employee challenges, such as the difficulty disconnecting from work, feeling overwhelmed by caretaking responsibilities, and suffering from virtual fatigue, 69% of HR leaders report that managers have less visibility into employee work patterns in today’s hybrid scenario.

Managing with empathy requires a shift away from performance by inputs  / toward performance by outcomes.

Most HR leaders agree managers must lead with empathy in this challenging hybrid environment, but most companies are not investing or innovating enough to make it happen.

The managers themselves are overwhelmed by their responsibilities. But. However, with managers already overwhelmed by the demands of their role, HR leaders must adopt a holistic strategy that focuses on overcoming three common barriers to empathy: skill, mindset, and capacity.

Number

60%

Today’s number is 60 – that’s 60%

While many chief executives who have returned to the office are struggling to convince staff to join them, Google is confident that most staff are going to return to the office

In a recent letter to staff, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai predicted that 60 percent of its workforce would spend a few days a week in the office, with 20 percent permanently remote and another 20 percent in the office full time.

Good news for those young employees, who will want a bit of office time to make contacts and ma their way up the ladder…

Thanks very much for tuning in. You can follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube for the latest news on the podcast, and don’t forget to subscribe to us on your favorite podcast streaming program.

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