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ATD Blog

Embracing the New Paradigm of Remote Work

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

In the early 1990s, I found myself in the remote village of Platinum, Alaska (population 45), attempting to finish my BA degree in rural development from the only pay phone booth in the village. Back in those days, we used the University of Alaska’s audioconference system to complete distance delivery courses; email existed but dial-up internet in the villages was completely hit or miss. While the conditions were a bit austere, I was forever grateful that the remote learning opportunity existed to complete my degree from a place as far off the beaten track as Platinum.

Fast forward to 2023, and I never would have guessed that I would be managing an Alaska Native Corporation comprised almost entirely of remote and hybrid workers scattered over more than 15 states. The feeling of gratitude for being able to work remotely was a consistent theme in a recent survey I distributed to our staff in preparation for this year’s Government Workforce conference. Respondents overwhelmingly believed they were more productive from home, achieved better work-life balance, and considered the ability to telework a majority of the time a decisive factor in current job satisfaction. Several commented that they would absolutely seek new employment if forced to return to the traditional office full time.

While COVID-19 might have ushered in an unprecedented era of work-from-home, remote work has come under increasing pressure from politicians and executives alike accustomed to the old over-the-shoulder management paradigm. In the early days of the pandemic, criticism about lack of accessibility was warranted, as many of the collaboration technologies we take for granted now were still being developed, and there was a steep learning curve for early adopters. Access to the workforce suffered, and collaboration was stifled.

Today, the situation has dramatically changed, the technologies have dramatically improved (along with connectivity), and most contractors and federal FTEs have at least a basic level of digital literacy to function in a remote or hybrid environment. For most, telework has become the standard modus operandi, and current efforts to force a full-time return to the office are likely to lead to revolt. Clearly, the pendulum has already swung in favor of a distributed workforce—or what General Stanley McChrystal coined “Team of Teams”—as the most competitive model for an effective workforce—or in the General’s case, Army.

We have our work cut out for us, though, to achieve the promise of this new paradigm. While most employees have basic digital literacy, few are fully leveraging the available tools. Office 365, which is ubiquitous in the government workspace, is notoriously complex to master, and most could benefit from some essential training on the core functionality of the tool set, as well as practical hacks for everyday collaboration. Emotional intelligence (EQ) in the virtual workplace is also an emerging field, requiring additional development and training in practical methods for both self-management and awareness as well as social awareness and management in virtual work environments. In this field, Dr. Jean Greaves’s new book, Team Emotional Intelligence 2.0, provides some cutting-edge practical strategies and solutions for enhancing EQ in the virtual team environment.

Lastly, conveying value metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) is now more critical than ever, both at the individual level and at the department and program levels. Tools such as Smartsheet Gov are making the creation of KPI dashboards that roll up data from the individual to the department and agency-wide level increasingly accessible and affordable. Don’t worry, we got this, folks! Onward, and forward!

About the Author

Anthony Caole serves as CEO for Three Star Government Solutions, LLC, an Alaska Native Corporation. He is a doctoral candidate in AMUs Global Security Program, and manages contracts supporting DHHS (SAMHSA, ANA) with staff in 15 states.

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