DAVENPORT, Iowa – As legendary poet laureate/pop artist Bob Dylan sang early in his career in the mid-sixties, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and so agrees the U.S. Army Sustainment Command leadership regarding where its personnel may be going to work.
But what will the 21st century workplace look like at ASC, headquartered in Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois? Twenty-two years into this century, that question has not been definitively answered quite yet. But, with forward-thinking and knowing it can’t stay the same, ASC leaders are now exploring for possible answers.
Up until March 2020, the look and function of the workplace predominantly looked the same as the 20th century, except for newer high-tech equipment. That all changed, however, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the majority of workforce to telework.
Previously, only a few Civilians teleworked Army-wide. Telework was typically approved by management on a case-by-case basis, based on unique employee circumstances. What many thought would be a temporary change unfolded into Civilian and military personnel working from home full time. Only now, two years later, with COVID-19 deaths lessening, the workforce is being told it’s time to start coming back.
But, come back to what?
With that in mind, ASC personnel consisting of Matt Sannito, deputy to the commanding general, ASC; Col. Scott Kindberg, ASC chief of staff; Lee Hansen, ASC deputy chief of staff, G1 (Human Resource Management); and, Shannon Nielsen, general engineer, ASC, recently met with Rena Gainey, owner and creator of opportunities, of coworkqc, at her business office located in downtown Davenport, Iowa.
Gainey has nearly 30 years of experience as an executive coach and trainer in corporate leadership development with Deere & Company.
She is in the business of helping companies embrace the possibilities of how the 21st century can meet the needs of the current and future workforce in order to recruit and retain the best talent.
Coworkqc is a shared workspace and community center for entrepreneurs, freelancers, remote workers and startups. The motto of the business is “Work, Create, Collaborate.”
One thing is for sure, the ASC workforce will not continue to do business the way it did prior to the pandemic. A shared workspace in some form may be a good alternative to working full time inside the headquarter’s office space at the arsenal.
“We are a global business. Our personnel work in all corners of the world. Not a single Army Field Support Brigade is on Rock Island Arsenal,” Hansen pointed out. “In essence, this makes all of our AFSBs remote workers with Rock Island as their ‘home’ headquarters. Some will never set foot on Rock Island Arsenal, yet, they are able to accomplish the mission without being physically confined to Rock Island Arsenal.”
Hansen added that a distributed workforce is not a new concept. “We just need to take advantage of the opportunities the pandemic gave us and to move forward,” he said.
“The pandemic only accelerated the evolution by demonstrating, very rapidly, to a large number of supervisors, that teleworkers can sometimes be more productive than a worker confined to a legacy brick and mortar office,” Hansen explained. “The employees also realized a greater work/life balance can be achieved creating a win-win for both the employee and the headquarters. Even small quick tasks like being available to accept Amazon packages or walking [their] kids to/from the bus stop can go a long way in improving work/life balance.”
According to various internet sources, shared workspace or coworking is the situation in which several workers from different companies share an office space, allowing cost savings and convenience through the use of common infrastructure, such as equipment, utilities, receptionist and custodial services.
It is also similar to a flexible office space, which is a type of workspace designed to provide employees with a variety of different places and ways to work.
Unlike traditional offices with fixed and assigned desk positions, workers in a flexible office space can choose the area of the office that best suits the type of work they need to do at that moment.
Flexible workspaces can be easily rearranged to accommodate changing business objectives, or quickly scaled up and down to fit teams of different sizes. These kinds of dynamic office spaces are typically designed to be used in conjunction with flexible working arrangements to provide teams with the freedom to work where, when, and how they want, various internet sources stated.
There is also flexible working , which is a term used to describe any working pattern that falls outside of traditional office hours or locations. That can mean working in different spots around the same office, working from home, at a remote desk or working part-time or staggered hours.
Consequently, workers don’t have to stick to normal business hours or endure busy commutes. Instead they can manage their time and energy resulting in more creative work, as well as being happier and more productive than their office-bound colleagues, internet sources stated.
Flexible working gives the workforce the opportunity to work how they want and where they want, fostering a healthy work-life balance in the process. By choosing their own schedules, employees can work around obligations such as medical appointments and school drop-offs, while avoiding rush-hour traffic and packed buses and trains.
Kindberg said he wants ASC to be able to hire the best talent, which often is restricted because of the limited employee pool in the Quad Cities or hesitation to move to the area. For instance, Kindberg said he would like the ability to hire someone from New York City, but have them work remotely if that person desires and the mission supports it.
“We must evolve in our remote and telework posture in order to attract a greater depth of talent, and a diverse workforce moving forward,” Kindberg said.
“Overall as an organizational headquarters within the Army, we need to adapt and embrace our ability to mission command remotely, and this type of facility/environment is the way of the future,” he said.
“The global pandemic hastened employer’s willingness to embrace a distributed workforce and this two-year experiment proved to be a successful business model,” said Sannito, a member of the Senior Executive Service. “If we are going to continue to succeed in our missions and attract/retain the best workforce, we must embrace our changed business processes to match the new culture of the organization by offering a variety of working environments that ensures all employees thrive in the best setting for themselves.”
Hansen said he is aware that in order to compete with private businesses who have embraced more progressive work policies, ASC must adapt as well.
“ASC has already lost personnel to other units who have a more aggressive telework/remote work program. We will continue to lose personnel and will find it become increasingly difficult to hire replacement personnel if we are unwilling to fully support policies more in-line with other industries,” he said.
Nielsen, the general engineer, has a different perspective on changes to where and how the workforce may work.
“We have gotten creative in how we create relationships with our teams and our customers over the last two years. I see a collaboration working environment as a new tool for the workforce to use to continue to build on our skillsets,” Nielsen said.
“There is hard-fast criteria outlined in existing Army regulations on space allowances, as well as dynamic considerations -- like in union agreements -- that will need to be considered and incorporated into such a plan. When the time comes to create the product, it will be crucial to have a defined plan in order to meet the intent of the concept.”
Nielsen said from a space perspective, ASC must find what actions can be taken to be the most beneficial for employees to do their best work, what flexibilities can be offered, how to introduce these ideas to existing employees, and how those concepts can be incorporated into a plan that meets facility criteria codes/expectations.
As any ASC Civilian or Soldier knows, the parking lot is still pretty empty for the most part. But what does that mean regarding infrastructure of ASC’s headquarters?
“Workplace features, like chairs, furniture, and office equipment, are not currently being used to their maximum utility,” Nielsen pointed out. “By using shared spaces, like team rooms for groups coming to the office to collaborate on a hot project, we will foster those personal relationships in addition to saving money by occupying a smaller footprint.”
Nielsen added there are many base operation services that are currently underutilized, such as running the heat for an unoccupied floor or paying for janitorial services that are unnecessary in vacant areas.
“If we are to continue the trend of a hybrid work model by being in the office less than 40 hours per week, we can find financial savings in Army-provided utilities and lifecycle management,” she said.
Hansen explained that a shared workspace concept is no different than a college student occupying a study desk/space in the university library.
“The student would occupy a study table, study desk or meeting room based on their immediate needs. As their needs change throughout the day, so can their study/work location. The same thing can occur with our employees,” Hansen said.
While much discussion will be needed before anything takes root, Sannito said that change is inevitable.
“I am an absolute champion for a new framework that allows greater access to talent, lower costs, higher productivity and enhanced work-life balances by trusting our workforce to get the job accomplished,” Sannito said. “We can and need to be the leader regarding where work gets done.”
“Our old road is rapidly agin’, Please get out of the new one, If you can't lend your hand, For the times they are a-changin’” – Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin, 1964.