In the first six months or so of 2020, everyone proclaimed the good news about remote work. Of course, making it work in national security was mission critical, so it’s great to have the option available. But as everything opens up more, some people have changed their tune about returning to the office or continuing with remote work. Relocation options also bring in more variables after a pandemic year.
Relocating for a Job – Is That Still a Thing?
Relocating for a new job can be a daunting experience. While our military members do it all.the.time, for contractors or federal employees, the most moving we usually choose to do is across a county line or into a new school district. But packing up your life and moving to another area can present a lot of challenges. While this may have seemed adventurous before, the reality is that many have realized that when the e-brake gets pulled on life, it’s important that you like where you live. After possible financial setbacks or family considerations in this past year, relocations have more factors to take into consideration. Workplace policies and travel budgets this next year will also impact how the relocation trend moves. While some reports show a slight dip in employees willing to relocate, depending on the location, some candidates might be happy to find a change of pace. The skiing and hiking enthusiasts might not struggle to call Colorado home.
Remote Work – Hybrid or full Time
Much ink has been spilled on the remote work topic this past year, but the option to work remotely also provides an alternative to committing to a relocation. It can either open the door for a move later on or a 100% remote job with periodic travel to the client site. For anyone who has been around the federal government scene long enough, this discussion about remote work is hard to ignore. It’s not a passing hot topic, and we’re past the point of wishing and hoping that it could be a reality. However, it’s a matter of how best to fairly and consistently incorporate. Recently, the federal government has made it clear that while remote work can be an option, locality pay will be a factor. So for employees in the D.C. region, the farther outside the Beltway you move, the more your pay will decrease. To date, many have chosen to live farther south on I95 and take the slug lanes back and forth each day. Others have moved as far away as Pennsylvania, opting for an almost two hour commute each way. While saving on commute time is a remote work benefit, the change in pay based on location will be a factor in what employees decide to do personally.
The other reality in national security is that 100% remote work is rarely an option when classified information is at play. Instead, agencies and organizations are becoming better at offering a hybrid approach for their workforce – both for federal employees and contractors. But when a task needs to be completed in the SCIF, it’s not possible to offer a work-from-home environment.
REturning to the Office
And there is a growing crowd saying they prefer being in the office. Whether it’s generation Z tired of trying to keep up with their emails and craving in-person collaboration or it’s the parents who are tired of balancing kids at home with their work, there’s a growing number of employees who feel done with the work-from-home life. While that may mean using hybrid options, some argue that not only is it harder to be working from home all the time, but team productivity has also been impacted. When people talk about productivity, they generally refer to their own personal productivity – getting the dishes done or a load of laundry folded while on a break. It seems that the ever elusive work-life balance is what people crave. But with the “always on” remote work, many are also reporting increased unhappiness and a feeling of being overworked. Multi-tasking feels productive in the moment, but it can actually have a negative impact.
The bottom line in national security: when cleared employees are discussing or handling classified information, there’s only one place that can happen. Without distributed SCIFs throughout cleared hubs, it’s challenging for fast-paced cleared teams to effectively work together in a distributed environment. On projects that do not handle classified information daily, remote work has more potential. But the reality is that while some employees are at home and others are in the SCIF, there’s a limit on collaboration. And with that limit comes increased stress on the employee who is physically present at the office.
A Flexible Approach is Needed
Until the riddle is solved, the onus is on leadership to set the example on how team productivity and personal well-being can work together. Leaders need to take time out of the office, demonstrating for employees how to balance home life with their work demands. If leadership is always in the office, it sets the tone and will stand in stark contrast to the praises for the remote work life that are being passed around in the media.
It’s hard to offer different options for employees, but the reality is that a diverse workforce has diverse needs, and the solution to meeting those needs is a bit more complex than a one-size-fits-all option. The discussion is more about getting individual and team needs met. For too long in national security, the focus has been solely on team needs. Employees were told to step up or step out. The problem with demanding remote work for the sake of personal benefits is that it ignores the other half of the equation. Personal preference needs to work with overall team needs; otherwise, it’s not a good fit for anyone. The key is keeping the big picture in mind more and being flexible in how we meet employee needs.
Aimee George Leary, Talent Strategy Officer, Booz Allen Hamilton shares, “…we should be able to move forward into our new way of working, with perhaps a quarter of our employees working full-time in an office, about half in a hybrid remote/in-person schedule, and another quarter working remotely full-time.” A flexible approach can go a long way in meeting employee and team needs.