As the COVID-19 pandemic forced Federal agencies to quickly move to a remote environment, Federal and private sector leaders say the shift to telework provided valuable benefits, such as increased leadership and employee engagement, as well as digital savviness among employees.

During an August 10 event hosted by Federal News Network, leaders shared how telework has helped their agencies or businesses to become more efficient and digitally connected.

“When we first transitioned to our all-virtual posture, really increasing the digital savvy of our staff and our leaders was imperative,” said Brian Abrahamson, CIO and associate lab director at the Pacific Northwest National Lab. “As we looked at how do we start to engage, how do we start to connect with each other, and work in at that time a very new reality, over the last 16 months I would say that is one of the significant observations we’ve had that the digital savvy of our organization has increased more in the last 16 months, I think it probably has in the last six, seven, eight years.”

Abrahamson also said he saw leaders become “very intentional about how we were engaging staff” and work hard to create new opportunities for touchpoints between employees.

“It’s really easy to drop into a virtual meeting for five minutes and say hello,” he added. “Our laboratory leadership at all levels is really working harder to connect. And while we did that out of necessity because we were very concerned about productivity, and performance, and mission accomplishment, I think it’s now become a habit and I think we’re going to benefit from that.”

Cozette Hart, chief human resources officer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, agreed with Abrahamson and said her agency saw increased participation and engagement among employees as well.

Hart said employees feel they have more access to leadership in a virtual environment and that leadership is also making a stronger effort to be more engaged with employees.

“We have found, because of the virtual environment, much more participation in town halls that we have, manager meetings, where before in person, you might get 100 people show up,” Hart said. “We have regularly 1,500 people tap into any communications that we do.”

Recent surveys have shown that 65 percent of employees want to work from home, but they still want to have that human interaction, according to Matt Mandrgoc, head of U.S. public sector at Zoom.

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Mandrgoc said as agencies and companies shift to more of a hybrid workplace, best practices to make those human connections between employees will be key.

“How do you make them feel like they’re there when they’re not? Whether it’s lunch and learn, or mandatory lunch and learn, or the morning coffee set, or more active one-on-ones with people, just to feel that connection out between them,” Mandrgoc said. “As we go forward and go into this new environment, you’re going to see more and more of these best practices coming forward.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.