The military’s leading tech development organization plans to expand work flexibilities first instituted for the coronavirus pandemic in a bid to improve productivity and advance diversity, equity and inclusion within its strength of 25,000 civilians, soldiers and contractors.
The Army Combat Capability Development Command, or DEVCOM, is a major subordinate command of the Army’s Future Command. DEVCOM has published a design document earlier this year, outlining the challenges and opportunities that presented themselves with the expansion of telecommuting during the pandemic.
“This is a very important subject for us. This is something that we really bring to the fore in our interest to move forward on talent management ”, John Willison, Deputy Commander General of DEVCOM, said Government executive. “Although we are a research and engineering center, at the end of the day it is truly a human endeavor so we have made sure we do everything we can to attract the talent we need and retain the talent we need. talents that we have. . ”
Government executive spoke with Willison on Friday about the future of work at DEVCOM. The interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
How and when did this initiative start?
The first phase began when the pandemic started and really unfolded last January. It’s our response to the pandemic, making sure we take care of our workforce; have a lot of people work remotely for the safety of our employees above all. Then, [having] to understand how to continue our critical mission in a different way. [In August 2020] what we noticed from our workforce was a lot of concern as fall approached. We have seen a lot of concern about children going back to school, people going to school themselves. So in August we said that we would continue to work remotely as much as possible until December, with the intention that in January we will publish a concept paper, in which we will really present the post- pandemic and, from a long-term perspective, how we saw it going.
The end of this first phase was last August, so last month to get the approval of our 4 star general, General [John] Murray, Commander of Army Futures Command, to move on to phase two, which more sustainably implements everything we learned in phase one.
The current phase we are in is implementing everything we have learned and putting metrics in place to see how it works, and then the third phase is what we are looking for, rather than a goal.
What are some of these lessons you learned?
We have learned a lot. In our concept paper, one of the two slogans is that we talk about the heart of what we do and why we do it: Army research, development and engineering for the Army. But the where and when and the who and the how will change.
We want to give our workforce the flexibility to work where and when they are most productive. So, we learned a lot about what that looks like. It looks very different to different people at different times. So one of the big lessons learned is to be very disciplined about how we operate, but not to be prescriptive. We want to make sure that we give our employees the flexibility they want and deserve to be the most productive. It is really the determination of managers and leaders with the contribution of employees.
This therefore imposes a fairly significant requirement on our leaders to have a leadership presence. What does it mean to be present as a leader if you have people working remotely sometimes, people in a lab or in an office sometimes? And then the other thing we learned is to make sure we say “work where and when you’re most productive”.
We will provide the tools to do so. And a big step for us will really define what those productivity metrics are, so we measure it and focus on the productivity of people time management or people location management with the management of the productivity. A big lesson learned is to make sure you have these metrics so that we can look back and see if we are really as productive as before? Or do we really think — as I think there is the potential to be — more productive in the future?
How many employees are involved in this approximately?
[There are about] 15,000 government employees in our command: 162 are military, so the rest are civilians. And when you add our support contractors who are an extension of our workforce, that brings you to over 25,000 people that we’re interested in trying to figure out how to manage on a day-to-day basis. As for the scope, this is the tricky part. We have people who we know will be working remotely if not 100%, darn close to 100%, of the time for the foreseeable future. A lot of that is in our business functions, a lot of it is, I will say, ‘thinking work’, analytical work, things that can be done just as effectively from a distance, where people prefer to do it.
Over 10,000 of our employees are engineers and scientists. For most of these people, it will be a mix of time spent in our high-tech special-purpose lab space, and then potentially remote time. We have people who have to be 100% in the lab. We have people who do chemical and biological defense. We have people who do power, warheads and explosives and so we have people who since the pandemic have been pretty much working 100% on site because of the safety or security issues we have. . So it really depends. That’s what makes it so interesting, so complex, but we think it also offers a lot of absolute opportunities in this area.
Do you think that what you do at DEVCOM can serve as a model for other parts of the Ministry of Defense or even other federal agencies?
Absoutely. We do a lot of work with our counterparts in the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard because they have organizations very similar to ours. But we have had a lot of interactions with other government agencies, as well as with industry, academia, especially since many of them are partners. And so we believe we can be a role model. We rely on this model in part because one of the great opportunities that we think there is is that we work a lot with our external partners.
In doing the research we do, we want the best ideas for wherever they are. And so we’re thrilled and counting on it spreading to other people because by doing this we hope not to be defined by our physical space, but by our ability to reach people no matter where. they find themselves. We have seen a lot of enthusiasm and interest from our own workforce, thinking about their own ability to get involved in projects that are not limited to a geographic location. We have a major site in Boston, one in Detroit and one in Huntsville, Alabama, a number in Maryland and Virginia, one in Jersey, one in Orlando. We already have employees at nearly 100 locations in the continental United States and overseas as well.
We are in the space of being innovative, creative, productive and therefore the more we can network, the more they can learn, the more they contribute, the more excited they are, the more productive they are. And so we are counting on this not only as a way to offer people flexibility in how they manage their own time and energy, but also to provide opportunities for people where they can do other things without having to travel. physically.
Would you like to add anything else?
We really believe this will allow us to attract talent that we have potentially not been able to attract before. In some cases, we have the ability to bring the work to where the people are, which is really exciting for us, especially when you look at it through the lens of another very important element. [topic] for us that is diversity, equity and inclusion.
Our business is innovation. We know that innovation comes from diversity of thought and that diversity of thought comes from a diverse workforce. And various in all kinds of different ways, to include geography, background, educational experience. And so we’re excited that we could potentially connect people who have never worked together before or who wouldn’t work together if that. [required] come to one place.
We can stimulate greater innovation with diversity of thought by addressing [groups] within our already existing organization or a talent pool that we can now tap into because of our will and interest, embracing the flexibility we can offer people to work where they are most productive. So it’s not just a response to a pandemic, but it’s an opportunity to work in a different way, and to really revisit the way we’ve worked, and then move forward from there. .