The Long-Term View of Telework and its Competitive Advantage

This interview with Mark Tyrrell, Managing Partner and a founder of Right Resources, looks at employing a remote workforce and the skills needed, the impact of COVID on Federal Health, the competitive advantage of telework, and what comes next.

Has COVID Changed Contracting Employment Trends?

There haven’t been too many changes in the Federal Healthcare space in terms of reducing headcount or budgets. We certainly didn’t lose anyone and the work needs to go on so it seems most everyone just pivoted to being at home. There was some Defense and other cleared work that had to be done on site that we know was significantly impacted.

What COVID is teaching us is that some people don’t work well at home, while others thrive. Being able to manage those who struggle with the lack of structure and don’t do well in that at-home environment is a skill managers must have, or need to develop.

Successful managers will ensure there is accountability from those offsite, that there is good communication and follow-up, but they must also ensure there is a level of autonomy to manage that new work/ life balance.

Will the Adjustment be Long-Term?

Those organizations that were truly agile in practice before COVID , meaning that among other things they already measured performance and planned well, pivoted quickly to the new reality and from what we’ve heard, didn’t experience a dramatic affect on performance once that initial adjustment period was over. Organizations that were agile in name or in ideal only perhaps, struggled further with things like on-boarding and communication.

Understanding the pressure of the cost and the risk involved in not protecting their teams, I would anticipate many agencies and their contractors will remain fully remote for the foreseeable future, or as long as it is potentially risky not to. Those agencies and companies that are struggling—that were not as agile as they had hoped—may be tempted to go back to the office too soon as a knee-jerk reaction to the challenges they’ve encountered being remote.

The Competitive Advantage of Telework

For the last four years especially, we’ve seen a significant shift to remote work by some contractors at CMS. In particular I noticed it from the small, agile businesses on ADELE, most of whom were either fully remote or mostly remote and continue to be. That telework capability, without the high overhead of a physical space, or the generally higher salaries in and around the DC metro, allowed them to be competitive financially and at the level of quality CMS wanted. Kudos to the acquisition office at CMS who did a really great job at setting this all up to encourage success that way.

Skillsets where Government and Contractors Historically Cut Corners

For years, as contractors tried to squeeze their pricing models to win, the easiest salaries to skim dollars off weren’t the engineers or the technicians, it was always the critical thinkers, those who have strong analytical and communication skills that weren’t as highly valued, like the business analysts whose job it was to understand the problems to be solved. Fortunately, agencies are coming to understand that analyzing the problem well and using a human-centered design approach and collaborating with experts from a diverse range of disciplines is critical to building useful tools. The software engineers are critical to the success of the effort of course, but those other skills are now coming to be more equally valued. In particular, as the world shrinks and more and more of the blocking and tackling of software development can be done in a far away place, my clients who are able to, have also found that it is much harder to off-shore the analytical work than the dev work. That doesn’t apply to this community so much.

As far as getting better in this area goes, we see some more progressive organizations in the commercial space and some further behind. Government is behind in some ways relative to the commercial space but I see things catching up quickly, especially through creative structures to acquisition like ADELE and the follow-on ACME that enable it.

Diversity in the Workplace

Any improvement to diversity of people and perspectives can be healthy for any entity. Within the Federal contracting space there has been the advantage of compliance requirements, EEO and affirmative action plans, which at least meant agencies and contractors were measuring because they had to. This puts a focus on the issue in particular once a company reaches 50+ employees.

I am thrilled with the greater call for diversity that is sweeping across our nation. I understand the desire to build a business case for diversity through articles that tout the correlation between diversity and performance, but I look forward to the day when organizations value diversity in-and-of-itself, without the need to connect it to performance. Some of Google’s early research on the diversity within their teams actually found that diversity sometimes hindered communication and success on those teams, and that many of its most successful teams were heterogenous, but that shouldn’t diminish our pursuit of diversity. Diversity has a value all on its own.

What is Ahead for 2021?

Many agencies and contractors have demonstrated they can work remotely so, other than the reaction from those who are perhaps not as agile as they had hoped, and therefore may choose to bring it back in house in an attempt to solve a problem, I would expect remote work will continue. Those who choose to get people back in the office to improve performance likely have a culture issue that transcends the location of their employees. The strongest teams we support are doing just fine in the new remote normal.

One of the big buzzwords everywhere is, of course, Artificial Intelligence and recruiting is not immune. Data analytics are being used in some capacities for hiring and retention and are being considered in others. We all want to make a great hire and if AI can help us make a good decision, then why not? Two of the biggest challenges to be overcome for AI are the challenge of identifying peoples’ motivation and the risk of small datasets perpetuating existing issues.

AI, or more accurately machine learning, can already be used to identify talent who could be successful in your company based on other folks who are already successful, but a huge portion of someone’s success comes from what they want. It is much simpler for data to point to where someone may end up than to show us where they want to end up, which may be two very different things.

The second challenge is one of the most common for problems being solved with AI and machine learning and it comes down to the notion that applying machine learning for hiring decisions runs the risk of perpetuating what has happened in the past with respect to things like gender and race. This is especially true for small to medium-sized business with small HR datasets. The most significant variable for the year ahead though is the election cycle since whoever the Administration is will have different spending priorities. Like everyone, we’re keeping a close eye on things to be able to respond accordingly.

About Mark Tyrrell

Mark Tyrrell is the Managing Partner and a founder of Right Resources and has recruited professionals in the Baltimore area for almost 15 years. He graduated from Villanova University studying business and finance and started his career as a somewhat technical consultant with PwC Consulting. He has staffed positions for some of the most respected companies in and around Baltimore. He lives in Catonsville with his wife and two beautiful children and wants to be humbly grateful for all the opportunities he’s been provided, including this company.

About Right Resources

Over the last 9+ years, we have filled hundreds of temporary and full-time positions at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We have supported every step of a program’s staffing needs: from identifying key personnel at bid, to re-badging and program stand-up, to finding temporary staff for budget underruns as programs approach re-compete. We save clients time because we understand the specific challenges of staffing and recruiting for Federal contractors and we’ve got the network of folks with experience there.

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