Federal workspaces are changing fundamentally. COVID-19 initiated major changes that will continue long past the pandemic’s end. As this new future takes shape, federal agencies have an opportunity to build back stronger: to be workplaces that value communication, connection, empathy, and, most crucially, trust.
Many people have been rocked to the core by the events of 2020. Organizations must work even harder to show they care. Federal workers will remember how their agencies cared for them during this time. Will they believe that agencies made decisions transparently, with their employees’ best physical, mental, and relational interests in mind?
It’s possible to find the good in turbulent times by taking actions and making plans that prioritize trust building. Accenture research identifies 10 principles for meeting employee needs in the age of COVID-19 – and I believe they have real and lasting resonance for government agencies.
Strengthen relationships and focus on people.
Federal managers should make an effort to understand and accommodate people’s individual circumstances and needs. Whether employees are taking care of elders, have young children schooling at home, or are living alone and feeling isolated, expressing empathy for their situation builds trust.
Relieve people from unnecessary work and activities.
No one expected the COVID-19 remote work experience would last this long. Federal managers can combat workforce fatigue by helping their employees prioritize activities and relieving them from redundant activities through technology.
Educate and coach around responsible leadership.
Leaders should ground their leadership in the agency mission and show how responsibility cascades to all employees. Every person in the organization needs to understand their role, right now, in keeping the mission moving forward.
Elevate your most visible leaders based on compassion and caring.
Make sure your leaders are seen as multi-faceted and truly human. People’s work lives have become more entwined with their personal lives —more federal employees are working from home and colleagues see aspects of each other’s lives like never before. The vulnerability that comes from this greater exposure brings people closer together. Leadership should be willing to show themselves in the same ways their employees do.
Turn to agile and skills-based structures across workforces.
Even as the federal workforce settles into some sort of “new normal,” continue to adapt. Don’t be afraid to change things up; agility goes hand-in-hand with imperfections. When adapting processes in this hybrid work setting, ask for employee feedback to enhance the experience. Embrace the process of trying (even on a small scale)—and adjusting.
Integrate purpose and values into each communication and initiative.
Let people know the impact they are having. Bringing home each person’s purpose is crucial not just from a practical workload standpoint, but also, from a deeply motivational one.
Bolster communications with data.
Even when full information can’t be shared broadly, employees need to see transparency in decision making. Data builds trust, so government leaders should look to thoughtfully integrate the wealth of data they have into their communications. Proactively and consistently collecting data on employee perception of their work life can help agencies more rapidly respond.
Rally leaders around consistent communication.
When people have the information they need to do their jobs, they can respond to change with resilience. Agencies should increase their cadence of their communication with employees like never before. Develop a consistent, intentional communications plan that is understood and followed by all leaders.
Develop your remote workforce capabilities.
Many federal agencies previously kept traditional work structures, but certain employees need the opportunity to work outside of the norm right now. Federal managers need to show they respect some level of employee autonomy for working differently. They also need to provide training, so the workforce fully understands how to use cutting-edge tools to maximize performance and productivity.
Don’t allow the crisis of the now to stop you from moving toward the next.
As much as federal leaders have to deal with the here and now, they also need time to think about the future. Carve out and protect focused time for reflection, strategy, and planning.
Federal workers yearn for close, stable connections with their organizations, leadership, and co-workers. COVID-19 has only magnified their needs. By emphasizing actions and plans that build trust, federal agencies can set a positive post-COVID trajectory that fuels long-term enthusiasm for the federal work environment.
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