In this year — one truly like no other — government agencies and organizations have had to face remarkable challenges. They’ve had to accelerate plans for digital transformation, bring a remote workforce online, and continue to provide critical services with minimal interruption.
While 2020 was one for the history books, the coming year will hold its share of challenges as well. To help government entities navigate what’s coming, we spoke with SAP’s Enio Velazco, Ph.D.
As the VP of HR Strategy and Business Transformation, Dr. Velazco has expansive experience leveraging digital technologies on a global scale. He works closely with CHROs and CXOs as a trusted advisor and strategic resource helping to translate business goals into human capital strategies that create value for their organizations.
“These new times are going to require new skills,” Dr. Velazco says. “I think we all could use a bit of honing, a little brushing up, or building our strengths.”
Here’s what he had to say about what challenges government agencies faced in the last year, and how they can prepare for what comes next.
Remote Work Challenges
Government employees have the same work-from-home challenges that everyone else does: Homeschooling children, caring for elderly parents, and making their dining room their new office.
But there’s an additional set of challenges for these workers, too. There are privacy and regulatory concerns about remote work. Combine this with an increased demand for government services, and it’s easy to see why HR managers have been stressed.
“Government agencies debated for many years whether or not flextime would be possible,” says Dr. Velazco. “And suddenly, they gave everyone a push to work from home. They discovered there were several pain points: They had inflexible legacy systems, outdated management practices, and a lack of transparency.”
Change and Accountability
Meeting these challenges will require more than updating technology, says Dr. Velazco: “In order to make a positive change, we need to make cultural changes and become more accountable.”
“The first step is to train supervisors to be more in line with a growth mindset, where they can act more like coaches and mentors. Reach out to people and provide guidance… but also give people some leeway and freedom to put these plans into play.”
Dr. Velazco cautions that leaders need to move away from more old-school, management styles of “command and control.” Instead, he says, “be a bit more open to modern management practices.”
How HR Can Evolve for Government Agencies
Just like the rest of corporate America, government agencies will be moving into more of a hybrid workforce this year. Some team members will continue working remotely while others will come into the office either a few days a week or full-time. It’s a model that offers incredible flexibility and possibilities. But there are challenges to navigate in order to achieve the best success.
Says Dr. Velazco, “We will have the people who are going to be working remotely, and the people who will have a chance to come back to the facility. The big question is: are agencies prepared to provide the same level of service to both groups?”
He adds that “if you don’t, then you really segment the workplace, and you create an ‘us versus them’ culture that could become very negative. It can put some in a privileged position while others get delegated to a second priority.”
Here’s how HR leaders can meet the challenges of managing a hybrid workforce:
Understand how this new environment affects employees, as much as possible – Naturally, different segments of the workplace will be impacted differently, and with various levels of stress on the system. “There’s going to be a need for fostering communications and for increased productivity and trust,” Dr. Velazco says. “Not everyone will need the same thing. By its very definition, a hybrid workforce is certainly not a ‘one size fits all.’”
Strengthen the employee-management experience – Maintaining personal connections and one-on-one interactions are always key for any type of relationship. Just like in the private sector, government employees need to find a way to communicate virtually.
Conversations we once took for granted (i.e. stopping by a colleague’s desk or chatting around a watercooler) are now more difficult. Chat and video solutions are key, as is the security and bandwidth to make them work properly.
Foster resilience, positivity and a growth mindset – During trying times, everyone can benefit from building more resilience, embracing a growth mindset, and having a positive outlook. Says Dr. Velazco, “Having managers that can spread positive messages and role model resilient behaviors will prove helpful. This is the perfect time for agencies to deploy targeted training. People need to believe that the required skills to get us through these challenging times can be developed through dedication and hard work.”
Empower employees to minimize HR interactions – Self-service solutions for HR are a critical part of supporting a hybrid workforce. Says Dr. Velazco, “Having a self-serve HR capacity is great: Employees should be able to submit time sheets, request time off, get approvals for training, all without a face-to-face conversation or having documents signed and stamped.”
Set new expectations for a hybrid workforce – Clear expectations are vital for everyone. A hybrid workforce can be a bit of a balancing act, and so it is important to find your equilibrium.
To that end, Dr. Velazco recommends being flexible, especially with scheduling. “Become much more comfortable with making sure deliverables are meeting the quality bar that you or the agency sets, rather than the timing of when someone does it,” he says. “It may be necessary to negotiate or have an understanding when workdays start and end. Setting clear expectations, but remaining flexible, will be critical.”
Flexibility is the Key to Success in 2021 – In the coming months and years, government agencies must focus on how to best manage and empower employees in a hybrid workforce. Updating legacy systems and adopting modern technology is part of meeting these challenges. But HR leaders need to update their management style, too: Flexibility, self-serve options, and an emphasis on communication will help employees stay positive and productive.