ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – The U.S. Army Sustainment Command is leading the way in instituting workplace initiatives intended to help the command recruit and retain quality Civilians and Soldiers to continue its mission to support the warfighter.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath has brought workplace conditions to the forefront for many companies, organizations and their employees. Work-home life balance, workplace conditions and just about every other facet of working has been, or is being, examined.
This examination is part and parcel of ASC’s 21st Century Workplace initiative, to find a way to balance organizational and mission priorities with workforce mental and physical well-being.
What is often referred to as the “new normal”, which entails much more remote and telework, has caused ASC to shift policies to bring in top talent and keep it, just like many other commands and organizations.
“The COVID pandemic changed the recruitment landscape,” said Lee Hansen, director of ASC G1 (Human Resources). “Current employees, potential applicants, and many businesses learned all can benefit from a hybrid workplace where employees can work from home far more frequently than what we once thought possible.
“One of the very first questions potential applicants ask is whether we support a robust telework program,” Hansen said. “They will stop the interview if we don’t offer this flexibility. We must become flexible, or we will lose out on the top talent.”
“The distributed work environment which we were forced to work within to combat COVID-19 taught us a great deal about our workforce, both current and future, as well as our capabilities to adapt as an organization,” said Col. Scott Kindberg, ASC chief of staff.
“Telework and remote work opportunities continue to be desired by a large portion of our current workforce,” he said, adding, “they also afford us the ability to attract talent from a wider candidate pool to fill vacancies.”
“One of my responsibilities as the chief of staff,” Kindberg said, “is to ensure that our people have the resources necessary to perform their jobs. That includes the tools and equipment to collaborate as part of distributed teams, technology to meet the demands of today’s environment, and physical space as necessary for those who are either required to or just desire to come into the workplace, whether full time or intermittently.”
These initiatives wouldn’t be possible without the approval and guidance from the command’s top leadership.
“Just as the Army is developing modernized technology to ensure we are decisive on the battlefield, we must do the same in how ASC works,” said Matt Sannito, deputy to the commanding general, ASC. “We must have a willingness to adapt to change, particularly regarding how, where and when work gets done. Embracing a multifaceted approach will give us the competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent that ensures we have a thriving and productive organization.”
“Our organization is not exempt from the competitive global environment on hiring and retaining a highly skilled workforce,” said Jim Spencer, deputy director, G1. “The generational difference within our workforce requires leaders to be flexible and adaptable. The everchanging culture of the future workforce requires leaders to become the change agents within our organization to ensure that our future workforce can sustain our Army’s readiness.”
“ASC leadership understands we must keep pace with the ever-changing workforce environment, not only to attract those who are entering the workforce for the first time, but also how to retain that talent,” said Linda Ottman, program specialist, G1 Health, Wellness and Resiliency program.
ASC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. Ottman cites numerous wellness and resiliency initiatives ASC offers that set it apart from other MSCs. Along with developing ASC-centric programs and initiatives, Ottman said she and her colleagues have a robust working relationship with their counterparts at AMC and other commands.
Ottman said health and wellness encompasses a wide variety of initiatives designed to encourage and motivate all personnel to develop healthy lifestyles, improve well-being, fitness, productivity and promote a positive work-life balance. They include:
Recharge Room – a dedicated space for employees to take a break during the workday to reduce stress. All ASC personnel are encouraged to use the room to relax, unwind, and reset. The room includes massage and lounge chairs, yoga mats and fitness equipment.
Workplace Challenges – voluntary opportunities for employees to engage in healthy competition with an educational component. Examples: Choose to Lose Weight Loss, Sleep Awareness, Fit Food, Steps, and Water Intake Challenges.
Two certified Health/Life Coaches – These coaches offer eight-week sessions focused on lifestyle changes to empower employees to reach their wellness goals and maintain optimal health. Topics include goal setting, habits, motivation, self-sabotage, discovering high-energy foods, relaxation and stress responses.
Electronic Life-Works wellness newsletters distributed to the entire ASC footprint each month highlighting health awareness, physical and mental fitness, suicide and substance abuse prevention, and resilience.
Master Resilience Training for Soldiers and Civilians in collaboration with AMC headquarters – 15-part series targeting resilience skills and an opportunity for Soldiers to complete their annual mandatory training requirement.
Civilian Health Promotion and Fitness Program enrollment campaign, promoting the opportunity for Civilian employees to use up to three hours per week to focus on fitness with supervisory permission.
Weekly All Things People Readiness Messages sent to entire workforce. The intent is to empower Soldiers and Civilians by fostering communication, continued teamwork, and maintaining a ready and resilient workforce. Over 175 messages have been published on topics related to COVID, teleworking, stress, depression, resource numbers, gratitude, resilience and suicide awareness.
Active collaboration with local community partners through the Commander’s Ready and Resilient Council, which provides a wealth of professional expertise and well-being resources shared with our workforce.
Lauren Biswell is the branch chief of the G1 Integration Team, a group of people tasked with developing and implementing new ways to keep the workforce happy, healthy, and productive.
“Our recharge room is the first of its kind within AMC, she said. “Not only does it offer a zone for relaxation, but it also has a separate zone for activity because people have different ways of recharging themselves.”
“Our 21st Century Workplace is also an initiative we are spearheading before any organization within AMC,” said Biswell. “The 21st Century Workplace initiative allows employees the flexibility to work from home or collaborate in person with our collaboration rooms that offer Wi-Fi and workstations that employees can simply plug their computers into and be ready to go.”
The flexible workspace is currently being developed, and, according to Hansen, will be fully equipped in about a year.
Hansen also said ASC is testing a “soft phone” proof of principle for the Army. This new capability eliminates the need for a desk phone by incorporating a digital phone into the laptop.
In essence, wherever you have your laptop, you also have your desk phone. This capability further reduces the need for employees to report to the same workstation, day after day.
“ASC is moving forward to take full advantage of the flexibilities offered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management,” Hansen said. “Supervisors currently have the authority to offer 100% telework to their employees, on an annual basis. We are now moving forward allowing supervisors to offer a three-year telework contract. The contract will even allow the employee to telework outside of the local commuting area for the duration of the temporary contract.”
Biswell said employee empowerment and team building is behind all their efforts. “From my point of view ASC has been first to lead efforts to support and empower our people. When we began research on the recharge room there were no examples within AMC of anything of its kind and it has been the same with the 21st Century Workplace. We did not let that deter us from either project.”
Ottman concurs. “Ultimately, the end state is for all ASC employees to be empowered through training, resource tools and opportunities to invest in their personal well-being,” she said, “which will build cohesive teams and positively impact a ready and resilient workforce committed to executing the commander’s intent and priorities.”
“We are laying the foundation for a more diversified workforce,” Spencer said. “The work we are doing today is setting conditions for our workforce to be more prepared to have work-life balance, resilience and be better prepared as our nation’s requirements will continue to grow.”
From telework, to remote work, to a “recharge room” in the workplace itself, ASC is charting a new path as organizations worldwide try to get and keep their share of top talent – talent that is increasingly able to dictate key aspects of their employment.
Kindberg said ASC has seen an increase of qualified applicants seeking employment for various open positions because of the flexibility ASC offers. This, he said, helps bring in highly qualified individuals with a variety of diverse backgrounds, which makes ASC stronger.
There are also financial incentives that come with the 21st Century Workplace initiative, said Kindberg. “In the future, these efforts will save thousands of dollars in utilities, allow our physical footprint for workspace to reduce, while keeping a highly productive workforce,” he said.
“Any time we can support our employees’ needs, we benefit as a command. The extent to which we can measure those benefits will be seen over time.”