(Getty Images)

7 federal agencies making the most of telework now (and beyond)

No agency will tell you it went into 2020 expecting to spend most of the following year in a mode of mass telework. But faced with the need to keep employees safe while continuing to support their missions during a global pandemic, agencies across the federal government gracefully shifted to technology-enabled remote work.

Several agencies stood out in their ability to make sure their personnel had the resources they needed to continue working safely outside the office — but some also used those rapid gains in connectivity, cloud services and collaboration tools as momentum to make long-term, sustainable changes to their remote work postures.

From large agencies like the Department of Defense — which, with the most odds stacked against it, became the federal government’s shining example of a successful shift to telework — and the Department of Veterans Affairs to smaller ones like the General Services Administration and National Science Foundation, we’ve compiled a list of the federal organizations that have shown telework is not only possible but can be just as effective as normal work in some cases.

This story is part of a FedScoop special report on the Future of Telework. Read the rest of the report.


 

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

U.S. Department of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

USDA already has plans in place for the future of telework when the pandemic is over. Secretary Tom Vilsack recently told 17,000 USDA employees during a virtual town hall last that he wants the department to have a policy that allows them up to four days of telework a week. And during the pandemic, the department was able to move seamlessly to large-scale telework, something CIO Gary Washington has credited to USDA’s past modernization progress.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

Department of Defense

Department of Defense

In a matter of weeks in the spring of 2020, the Department of Defense moved millions of its personnel to a brand new telework environment called Commercial Virtual Remote. Now, the DOD is in the closing months of an even bigger lift, an “enduring” telework solution it calls DOD 365. It’s the type of work-from-anywhere solution long wanted in the government but that has been difficult to achieve due to security concerns. “This is darn impressive when you look at where we started,” John Sherman, acting chief information officer of the DOD, told FedScoop in an interview.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

General Services Administration

General Services Administration

GSA has always been pretty good at telework. A model of federal telework, the agency has had most of its workforce on a telework arrangement for several years now. And because of that, when COVID-19 hit, GSA was able to move the rest into a remote posture pretty easily. “We were already a largely mobile-enabled organization,” CIO David Shive told FedScoop. “We started that down that path about five years ago. And so sliding into the current regime under the national emergency didn’t require too much change. We did some stress-testing beforehand just to make sure that all of our infrastructure was going to work well, that employees were trained who are not often teleworkers and did a little bit of tuning kind of around the edges. But it really wasn’t a lot different.” It will be interesting to keep an eye on GSA post-pandemic; as the federal landlord, the agency tends to lean into modern workplace arrangements in support of shrinking the government’s real estate footprint and will likely be aggressive in sustaining an expanded telework stance.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

NASA

NASA

NASA has adjusted very well to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jane Datta, the agency’s chief human capital officer, told FedScoop last fall at FedTalks. “However, it did take us a little bit of time to get there.” Prior to the crisis, the agency already had experience putting telework agreements into place as part of its existing workforce strategy. But the difference with mass telework during the pandemic, Datta said, “was we were going to scale really rapidly.” At some points, more than 90% of the agency was working from home, she said. And from this, NASA has learned that there are many advantages to this type of work, especially when geography is not a limiting factor. “And I think we’re starting to find ways to adapt to the deficiencies of telework,” Datta said.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation

At one point during the pandemic, the National Science Foundation had 100% of its workforce teleworking. This wasn’t by luck. The agency had plenty of experience supporting telework prior to COVID-19’s arrival. And CIO Dorothy Aronson told FedScoop earlier this year she thinks that this will stick around in a hybrid model even when the pandemic ends. “I expect after COVID that more people will appreciate working remotely and a higher portion of our workforce may want to work remotely,” she said. “I would anticipate that we’ll need to look very closely at those hybrid meetings, where some people are in the office and some people are at home, to even out that interaction.”

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

Navy

Navy

The Navy is piggybacking off the work of the DOD to enable a sustaining vision for telework within the service.  The service is focused on building out a fully integrated platform that also has enhanced security features by June 2021. The new telework technology is also prompting modernization across the department, officials have said. One example is that the new solution is pushing the Navy to move away from using its intranet —  the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet — to a network-as-a-service model.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

Department of Veterans Affairs

Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA was one of the biggest recipients of relief money under the CARES Act, and it put that to good use supporting rapid scaling of telework, among other things. Former CIO Jim Gfrerer said last year the VA put “every penny” of the more than $2 billion it received for things like telework and telehealth to “effective use.” Prior to the pandemic, the VA was “very much an on-premise agency,” Gfrerer said, meaning most employees work physically in a department office day-to-day. But when the crisis hit, that changed in short order. Gfrerer said the VA was responsible for one of the largest “single-day deployments of Microsoft Teams,” rolling out the tool to more than 400,000 users in rapid fashion.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail