1102s Are The Ultimate Knowledge Workers
I know it goes without saying ... but this year has been quite a doozy for all of us, which is why I haven't blogged in a while. Along with every other industry sector in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic threw federal government operations into a whirlwind. Like many other agencies headquartered in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, I had to move my workforce offsite into an almost 100% virtual environment to protect our folks from the coronavirus back in March. Thankfully, my organization has been adapting well to this "new normal" thanks to our IT capabilities supporting all of the same business functions we used when we were physically in the office. And so far I haven't seen any instances of significant delays in the work getting done. Most of the routine procurements are still on track despite the uptick in surge requirements due to the need to respond to the pandemic. I've even been teleworking a great deal, which is something I've never really done in my own career and much to my surprise I've found that I'm actually much more efficient without all of the in-person meetings. Go figure! In fact, this whole experience has taught me that professionals in the 1102 job-series are the ultimate knowledge workers.
According to the definition of knowledge workers from Wikipedia, they are workers whose main capital is knowledge and their line of work requires them to think for a living. Knowledge workers engage in non-routine problem solving that requires both convergent (non-creative) and divergent (creative) thought processes to address standard and dynamic challenges respectively. I think that personifies the Contracting and Procurement workforce in the federal space because we have to operate with agility and find ways to be forward-leaning while navigating a dense regulatory environment with a myriad of rules and regulations. Sometimes the solutions we offer our customers and stakeholders are less complex and other times they require a great deal of sophistication. And we consume and produce a significant amount of information and data which, all by itself, contributes to a unique knowledge economy in the government - which we've all affectionally dubbed as #GovCon in recent years. A lot of knowledge workers in other industry sectors have been working virtually for decades and I believe that COVID-19 has certainly served as an eye-opener for many leaders on the federal side of the GovCon community.
So, all of that said, with the 1102 community being the ultimate knowledge workers, should we look to reduce our brick and mortar footprint in the GovCon community by allowing more flexible telework options - on a more frequent basis - and can the quality of the work and interactions with our customers and stakeholders be just as consistent as when we're in the office? I think so. Working in a virtual environment is definitely feasible for Contracting and Procurement professionals because there's not a lot that can't be done from outside of the office. Market research can be done by phone and internet. Integrated Project Teams to shore up requirements and develop procurement strategies can be conducted by video-based technology or with good old-fashioned teleconferences. Documents can be transmitted through platforms like Sharepoint. And with web-based contract writing systems, solicitations can be created without having to sit in a federal office as well. The biggest barrier, in my mind, is the ability to create and retain official electronic contract files once the transaction is awarded, but even that's starting to change. As more virtual-enabled IT tools come into the market, there's really not a need for as much physical space anymore.
Now, that's not to say that the IT tools can ever completely replace the benefits of in-person interactions. I don't believe that will ever be the case. However, I do believe that the video-conferencing technology, like Microsoft Teams, is a game-changer. If you think about it, what's the difference between seeing someone on a screen and sitting across from them in person? Not much ... other than the opportunity to shake their hand which, nowadays, is becoming taboo because nobody wants to spread germs. There are some professions, like Teachers for example, that absolutely need the in-person interaction with their students. But for adult professionals that are all engaged in knowledge work, I'm not sure that need is the same. Or, at least, it may not be necessary to the same degree of frequency it used to be needed. Don't get me wrong, nothing will ever beat human-to-human interaction. For example, the ability to gather folks together for team-building and morale events. (I'm really hoping we can still do our annual gingerbread house competition when the holidays come around this year!) However, I think striking a balance between the need for in-person interaction and virtual interaction is the key.
I realize not all of my counterparts will agree with this thinking. There are a lot of leaders in the GovCon community that may still have doubts about moving to more telework, even after operating virtually due to COVID-19, but I think that largely rests in old-school concerns about managing productivity. The notion that people aren't working unless they can actually be seen doing the work is archaic and simply not a reality anymore. I do think, however, that those of us in the federal space need to learn new skills to lead and manage in a virtual environment. It requires different communication skills and strategic management for a virtual workforce, that has traditionally been centrally-located in a physical space, will need to focus on unique organizational challenges. But as the times change, I think it's important that we change with them as a federal community or run the risk of being left behind.