Federal intelligence community leaders agree that as the Federal government slowly starts to return to the office for in-person work, managers and supervisors will need to help lead a “cultural shift” within agencies to normalize remote work and rethink performance management.

Just last week, the Biden administration announced it would be expanding “maximum telework flexibilities” for Federal employees, creating a huge cultural shift for the Federal government that will allow agencies to offer flexible work-from-home and hybrid schedules.

As hybrid work becomes the norm in the Federal government, agency leaders argue supervised performance evaluation can become difficult to quantify. During a June 15 FedInsider webinar, leaders from the intelligence community stressed that managers will need to use technology to communicate even more with teleworking employees.

“There’s just going to be some normalizing we’re going to have to do over the next, you know, year of getting folks back in and in a different hybrid situation,” said Sherry Van Sloun, assistant director of national intelligence for human capital at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “It’s going to be a cultural shift in the way we think about this, and it’s going to affect not just the employee, [but] all the way up to the leadership and how we kind of look at the whole cycle of performance management.”

Part of that cultural shift, Van Sloun said, is leaders being “intentional” when it comes to engaging digitally with teleworking employees.

“There’s just going to be some cultural shifts in how we think about engaging with each other and looking at ways we can communicate differently and still stay engaged,” she added. “I think that’s going to be a growth area for all of us as we kind of get this down to the middle-level managers and below to really find ways to engage and continue that communication that, you know, used to be going on every day as we saw each other in the office.”

Although some agencies may be skeptical to adopt a permanently hybrid workforce, the intelligence community has fully embraced it. Susan Kalweit, senior associate for culture and leader excellence at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency said teleworking has become “a mission imperative” for her agency.

“The hybrid work environment is not a question of should we, but it is a question of we must,” Kalweit said.

She added that agencies now need to invest in not only implementing digital communication tools, but also in workforce training and creating “a culture and inclusive environment for the entire team.”

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“Culture always goes back to the human and how humans are feeling,” Kalweit said. “What we came to recognize during COVID as emotional resilience, I think continues to be a very valid need in this post-pandemic environment.”

Kalweit said that some employees may be hesitant to return to the office, whereas some may be excited. Either way, she said leaders and managers need to use empathy to create a work schedule that is right for every employee, whether that be in-person, remote, or hybrid.

“In this post-COVID environment, I think number one as leaders we have to acknowledge that every emotion, both fear and excitement, and many more are valid emotions. And they’re now part of our workforce,” she said. “So, truly, in order to successfully shift our organizational norms in support of a hybrid work environment, we have to access all of these emotions, and we need to address them uniquely. I believe that empathy is the secret sauce for doing just that.”

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