Federal leaders reflect on how the workplace is evolving, how to harness innovation through technology, and finding new ways to attract and retain talent.
- Forward-thinking strategies necessitate engaging talent and a shift in leadership behavior.
- Opportunities abound to reconfigure workplaces around how employees are actually working.
- Automation and technology need to support innovation.
Thought leaders from the government and public sector joined us in a virtual roundtable to collaborate and share leading practices on how their organizations are transitioning to new ways of working. Federal agency panelists were Tom Chaleki, Chief Readiness Support Officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS); Jim Hardin, Human Capital Strategist, Data and Technology, Department of the Navy; and Chuck Hardy, Acting Chief Architect and Chief Workplace Officer, Public Building Services, U.S. General Service Administration Public Building Services (GSA).
Government acknowledges there is work to be done
Based on its sheer purchasing power and regulatory guidance, the federal government is playing an important role in creating and shaping markets. Agencies are taking different approaches in planning for the future of their workforces, improving the workplace experience, and transforming delivery models and operations.
The post-pandemic re-entry work environment offers a unique opportunity for agencies to update their policies and strategies to drive benefits around employee satisfaction, cost reduction and empowering decision-making.
More than half of the government and public sector have already taken action, and 40% are in the midst of creating value-informed plans. While our data supports the public sector’s overall progress, we recognize that agencies are at varying levels of maturity and that significant work still needs to be done.
Figure 1. EY Work Reimagined Employer Survey “new normal” action planning breakdown
Three prongs to a multidisciplinary future-of-work approach
The right set of solutions can help agencies capitalize on the future and drive business transformation benefits. As agencies take a proactive approach, three themes emerge: people and how they will work differently in a reimagined future; place or the real estate footprint, which continues to evolve; and technology and the use of business intelligence and predictive analytics to improve the workforce experience.
The examples described below show how federal agencies are supporting actionable innovation across different pillars of the workplace.
1. Being super innovative in the war for talent
Up to 70% of workers thought that COVID-19-related restrictions led to the most stressful time in their careers, according to The World Economic Forum’s 2020 COVID-19 Risk Outlook. This contributed to the Great Resignation, the “Retirement Cliff’ facing government and high reshuffling rates among employees. Attracting and retaining talent has become the No. 1 priority – and employee expectations and assumptions have changed.
People are learning and working differently in this reimagined future. One agency panelist commented that one size does not fit all and that remote work is not for everyone. “Choice is really the fuel of engagement. It’s doing what makes sense for the business,” said Chuck Hardy of GSA. He added that it is the richer conversations about how you are working now and how you move to the next stage. The value of these interactions is now being characterized as the “cost of the commute,” and individuals are evaluating the return on investment of both time and resources. It’s the value proposition of the face-to-face interaction that is the driver.
At DHS, 60% of workers were considered essential in serving at ports of entry/exit and between the ports of entry/exit, as well as ports worldwide during the pandemic, and 50,000 vehicles were home offices for employees. DHS views office space as an ecosystem, highlighting the need for project collaboration and flexible space, as well as training and hiring people to fill the talent gap.
Recruiting out of the box
When looking at its workforce, DHS considers the lifecycle of its employees. What will inspire them to work for the agency and make their career with the federal government? Since access to talent is one of the biggest challenges, the department has taken a unique step by creating a climate change internship program that it markets to colleges and universities. Within five days, DHS received 160 qualified applicants. The 24-month gig provides a working experience throughout federal offices, accreditation as a climate change expert and a full-time job with the government. It enables DHS to harness innovation by hiring the brightest and best professionals and giving them specialized training for a future career focused on tackling some of government’s and society’s most pressing challenges.
2. A peek at the workplace of the future
If you think of the workplace as an ecosystem, then you have to think about more than just the brick-and-mortar footprint. Tom Chaleki of DHS said, “Before the pandemic, we began capturing utilization data for our facilities so we could see how they were being used on a day-to-day basis. We knew we had more footprint than we needed and started looking at opportunities to align locations by communities. We learned that employees wanted more collaboration space to meet and work – and we set up the IT structure to make that possible.” Addressing these issues has not been easy, but DHS’s leadership strategies have been very innovative.
A physical space innovative hub
GSA has embarked on a number of initiatives for retooling the future of work and creating greater connectivity throughout its organization It is taking that to another level by setting up an innovation hub that partners with private industry to drive products and services to be better. GSA does everything from furniture solutions to workplace apps to monitoring indoor air quality. “We are also learning from our clients whether we are really solving a problem or just shining a bright light,” said Chuck Hardy. The data collected directly from customers is driving innovation.
3. Elevating the use of technology to drive engagement and collaboration
Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are playing a key role in supporting the workforce of the future and augmenting talent shortages. As one panelist said, it’s like the analytics have been shaken as we move into this new world. When people work remotely, they need to have the technology and mobility tools to support them. In the EY Future of Work employee survey of 16,000 respondents, 60% say they want technology in the office, and 48% want employers to invest in hardware to improve connectivity and productivity when they work remotely.
The Navy is looking at technology from a human capital and work life balance perspective: How do they accommodate a hybrid workforce where people come in and out, and still design the right facilities? “In the long haul, technology makes everything else work. You can measure productivity and performance and enable innovation and collaboration if you have the technology in place,” said Navy veteran Jim Hardin. He added that all federal agencies have under- and overutilized talent. “As we realign our talent to make better use of it, we must make sure the team is engaged with our virtual technologies.”
How automation supports innovation
The construction industry has always faced labor shortages. Many automated tasks are not inspiring, so when work slows down and other industries look more enticing, people leave. The GSA is finding ways to elevate the use of technology to retain its workforce. It looks at specific tasks that cannot be automated and aligns people with the motivation, training and opportunity to upscale. As GSA’s Chuck Hardy stated, “We want to be synchronized around tech, not standardized. If we standardize, we are freezing ourselves in one place in time. Whatever we choose to automate must be in support of our objective, growth and innovation.” He added, “It’s getting people to work for the greater good that is the challenge – feeding their passions and bringing the tools to bear to make that work.”
Key takeaways from the roundtable discussion
- Attracting and retaining the next generation of talent is the No. 1 priority.
- Thirty-one percent of roundtable participants are most concerned about mitigating burnout, supporting well-being and cultivating a strong organizational culture.
- Keep both the mission and people at the forefront of decision-making.
- Innovative thinking begins by creating a dialouge with the workforce and using that feedback to move forward.
- New space concepts, such as innovation hubs, are helping to attract employees back to the office.
No agency can embark on this journey without thinking about change management and keeping the change moving. Technology is so important to enable this.
The pandemic has created a unique opportunity for federal agencies to showcase their leadership roles in leveraging technology and innovative thinking to reimagine the future of the workplace. Their plans focus on promoting a flexible and agile workforce; empowering agency decision-making; strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion; and enhancing the employee experience.
(Courtesy EY. By Erica Ford Principal, Genevieve Hanson, Jennifer Rome Managing Director, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young LLP)