The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) successfully adapted to a flexible telework schedule for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic and plans to retain hybrid training and development opportunities for employees beyond the public health crisis, according to a DHS official.

DHS vastly increased its number of teleworking employees during the pandemic and was “intentional” in allowing flexible schedules that worked best for its employees, according to Clo Taylor, chief learning and engagement officer at the agency.

“We were very intentional in allowing flexibility for folks … working virtual, work when it was good for you and your family because the dynamics of life changed for everyone,” Taylor said during a July 13 event organized by NextGov and Government Executive. “No longer were the kids in school or at the daycare, so people were at home taking care of their children, taking care of their families, and still trying to get the work done. So we intentionally, we really tried to be more open-minded.”

Part of that flexibility, Taylor said, took the form of allowing employees to complete their mandatory trainings during a time that worked for them. And in turn, Taylor said DHS saw its online training numbers “skyrocket.”

“We have allowed folks that work-life balance,” Taylor said. “That has also given our employees an opportunity to really spend time with their training in their learning and development side. I think we have we have really seen our numbers increase with our online training, our e-books, our e-learning. We have seen that those numbers just really skyrocket because folks have found that they have the time to do it because you’re not on the road spending that time in the car, you’re not on the Metro, or you’re not on the train, trying to come into the office.”

As a result of the agency’s success with online training, Taylor said DHS will “never go back” to solely in-person training for employees.

“I think we will keep our learning and development in more of a hybrid environment where it will give opportunities for more folks to join,” Taylor said. “There’s not going to always be a budget or flexibility for folks to always be in training opportunities in person.”

“So, we are heavily looking at keeping our virtual training and making it more of a hybrid, so we would offer it in person and on a hybrid basis, and to me, that’s going to really give and open the aperture for folks to have an opportunity to be a part of that,” she added.

However, Taylor noted that some trainings are more difficult to do virtually, and said DHS is still working on solutions for areas such as law enforcement training.

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“How do you do hand-in-hand combat and training in a virtual platform?” Taylor asked. “So, those are areas that we’re still learning and growing in that because it is something that takes a lot of effort. Now, we are using AI, we’re using some of the cyber platforms to do some of that, but some of that sort of training you can only get the real training when you’re in a face-to-face situation.”

Nevertheless, Taylor said DHS is working hard to “create and open up all opportunities for more training,” and will be intentional in allowing employees to complete trainings at their own pace – both in-person and online.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.