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Lankford Chairs Hearing to Assess Federal Agency Telework Best Practices from Private-sector Experiences

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s opening remarks.

CLICK HERE to watch Part I of Lankford’s Q&A.

CLICK HERE to watch Part II of Lankford’s Q&A.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today chaired a hearing of the Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management entitled, “Modernizing Telework: Review of Private Sector Telework Policies during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” to speak to leaders in telework of the private sector to help Congress assess federal agency needs to ensure federal workers can work remotely safely, securely, and efficiently. Among the private-sector professionals was Oklahoman Mr. T. Lane Wilson, who serves as Senior Vice President and General Counsel at the Williams Companies, Inc., of Tulsa, OK.

Lankford’s questions focused on best practices in a telework environment with school-age children in and out of school, the ability to hire new workers, and cyber security standards. Lankford’s Telework of US Innovation Act, which makes permanent the authority of the US Patent and Trademark Office to conduct a telework travel expenses program was included last week in the Senate version of the national defense bill. Lankford and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have also pressed for ongoing oversight of the federal workforce COVID-19 response, including teleworking for federal agencies.

Excerpt from Q&A Part I

On telework with school-age children

Lankford: Mr. Ly, you mentioned about school-age children and flexibility. Obviously that’s a unique issue to right now and COVID-19 with schools being closed. I want to ask you, as you’re thinking about, say, a year from now, are there lessons to be learned—and that’s a lot of what we’re trying to be able to pick your brain on for all four of you is to pick your brain on what you’re doing in the private sector and things we need to implement in the public sector in the days ahead—for school-age children do you anticipate for telework you’ll handle schedules differently for teleworkers not during summer time but during summertime that may be different. Do you anticipate something that’s going to have to change when we’re not in a COVID-19 world but still doing telework?

Mr. Michael Ly, Chief Executive Officer at Reconciled: Yeah, right now, we’ve been operating pre-COVID-19 world as a remote work and telework company. And so we first set expectations with every employee that the majority of their work has to be accomplished and done during the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time, which is the time zone we generally operate in and which our customers generally operate in and want to receive responses from us from. We also communicate with our employees that they need to be responsive to emails, to communication to their customers as well as other coworkers that have questions related to work. So I think the really main disruption is the reality of school-age children at home. Besides that, we’ve been able to have pretty efficient operations as a business and also set expectations with our employees on their work outcomes that would normally be able to be accomplished between normal work hours between 8 and 5pm Eastern.

Lankford: Before I transition to Senator Rosen here for her questions on it, what I’m really trying to drill down on is, do you anticipate post COVID-19 lessons learned that you’re going to have one type of structure for your telework folks that have school-age children—let’s say January to May—and another type of structure that functions during the summer with those that have school-age children? Or for your managers, you’re just basically saying, ‘be more merciful to your folks as you’re managing when they’ve got school-age children? Do you anticipate there’s two different structures or just more mercy and flexibility during the summer?

Mr. Ly: I think there is more flexibility during the summer, but as long as you empower your managers and your employees to make decisions that work for their families but also allows them to accomplish their work outcomes and that those are clear for them, then what we find generally is that our employees are very flexible with their own lives because they appreciate the flexibility they’re being given. So, with the responsibility of being able to work from home, they take that seriously, and they flex their own personal lives to be able to get their jobs done as well as the needs of their families.

Excerpts from Q&A Part II

On telework and hiring new workers

(00:33 – 3:33) Senator Lankford: I’ve heard some companies say we’re finding good success in teleworking more than we thought we would, and then they put this caveat in there—except when we’re hiring new workers. Because the existing people teleworking now they have previous relationships, they’re used to collaborating. But when you add a new person or a new group of people into this trying to learn each other and figure out how to collaborate, integrating into the culture of your business that’s a very different experience when all of their experience has been telework and all the people who have physically collaborated now don’t know what to do with this new person that’s been teleworking. Let me pick your brain on this, for long term are there lessons we can gain from this on integrating new people into your culture when all of their relationships are telework relationships. You’ve got input for that, we need it.

Mr. Ly: I can start with that because we’ve hired a majority of our employees that way, remotely. Employees I’ve never physically met or been present in the same room with. It first starts with thinking through your onboarding experience or your employee’s day one experience. Most important for us at Reconcile is what is an employee experiencing on their first day, first week and first 30 days of being here and how do we set them up for success? So we leveraged technology to do that.  We created a dashboard where we literally outline all the different steps of what they’re going to experience in those first 30 days, what their different days will look like and the training they have to go through online. We require every employee to set up video meetings with others in the company even if it isn’t related to their work so that they start interacting with other co-workers and team members that are in the company.

We also have required meetings with different managers and different leaders within the organization. They do go through a pretty thorough video orientation with the head of HR as well as their managers several times that week there during the first few days. It is important to think through intentionally what is an employee experiencing? What is it like? What are things they need to see on video? What do they need to see in physical documentation? What can be a quick email? And really try and create what I call a ‘Disney-like’ experience, how can you wow them even in a virtual setting? We often have employees say they feel more connected in that experience virtually than they do in most places they’ve worked physically. So we know the results speak for themselves when we get that feedback from employees. It’s really that intentional investment very similar to what you would do to invest in a customer experience. How do you make a customer feel like they are connected with you and can trust you? You have to do the same thing or if not more with a virtual employee.

On telework and advancing IT needs

(17:45 – 19:19) Lankford; So is there lockdown software or anything that you have that prohibits someone from getting online without using the VPN or doesn’t allow them to be able to download applications without having an administrator login or setting you’ve created on that. I’m still interested in, if they have a company laptop on a home Wi-Fi system, their router may be four years old and unsecured, do you require that the company also installs their router at home?

Mr. Ly: Yeah, so you want to make sure that you provide one, a stipend to cover the costs for all those things or you, yourself, as a company cover those costs, and two, ensure that those are installed correctly and with password protection that is secure as well as if the laptops themselves have updated virus protection on a regular basis. And there is software that we use to be able to do that to the computers that we’ve given to our staff.

Mr. Lane Wilson: Chairman Lankford, a couple things, so when I was with the Judiciary, I don’t know if it’s worth visiting with them or not, but we were already unable to add software to the laptops that we were provided by the judiciary. We here at Williams have VPN always on so there’s no choice, if you’re on a wireless network, your VPN’d into the network. And finally I would just say, record Michael’s last answer, transcribe it, and get it out to every federal employee who’s working at home.