The Future Work Environment: AFRC mapping out a tomorrow highlighted by more alternative workspace arrangements

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner
  • Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, Air Force Reserve Command was dipping its toes into the pool of telework work and other alternative workspace arrangements. The pandemic pushed the command into the deep end, forcing AFRC to immediately shift to a work-from-home business model.

In the months that have followed, AFRC has made necessary adjustments in order to meet mission requirements and ensure force health protection. As a result, a large portion of the headquarters staff now combines work from home with some in-office work to meet mission demands while preemptively decreasing the likelihood of COVID-19 exposure.

Now, a cross-functional team at AFRC headquarters, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, is trying to determine exactly what the command’s future work environment should look like. Lt. Col. Dustin Pawlak, deputy chief of readiness and integration in the Directorate of Manpower, Personnel and Readiness (A1), is leading the command’s Future Work Environment (FWE) team.

“Overnight, the AFRC staff went from 7% of our work force doing some sort of telework to almost everyone teleworking full-time,” Pawlak said. “And now after the dust has settled a little bit, we have about 78% of our people teleworking at least part of the time. The FWE team is charged to create a work environment that embraces modern technological capabilities and work balance while still meeting mission demands.”

In addition to A1, the team includes experts from Contracting (PK), the Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection Directorate (A4), the Communications Directorate (A6), and the Directorate of Analyses, Lessons Learned and Continuous Process Improvement (A9).

“We will never return to managing our workforce the way we did prior to COVID,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, AFRC’s commander and chief of the Air Force Reserve. “Telecommuting will be an enduring part of our workforce.”

Pawlak echoed Scobee’s statement. “The one thing we know for sure is that we’re not going back to way things were before the pandemic,” he said. “Beyond that, we’re looking at what is the right mix of in-office work versus telework and what impact this has on our mission, our work spaces, our communications systems and our people. We’re focused on creating and maintaining a future work environment that provides essential manpower and capabilities, enabling rapid response, operational surge and long-term operational sustainment of its people, infrastructure and technology. This strategic depth is critical to our national defense.”

Dawn Androsky, AFRC’s director of staff, is championing the work of the FWE team and is excited about the command’s future work environment.

“AFRC wants to obtain the best and the brightest,” she said. “Flexible work options will allow us to do this. Since 80% of our reserve workforce is part-time, we want to lead the way for the future work environment. This effort will allow us to retain talent, but not necessarily require us to have them on-site. Today, we have a flight surgeon working medical case management from Knob Noster, Missouri, for example. He is productive at his current location, and we are able to utilize his talent and specific skill set and not incur PCS charges nor disrupt his current family situation. It’s a win-win for the member and the command. This is only one example, there are many more.”

Pawlak said that numerous studies have shown that telework productivity is as high, and frequently higher, than on-site work. In addition, the command stands to reap positive environmental and monetary impacts from increased telework.

“During COVID, providing flexibility has been essential to allowing our people to maintain work life balance,” he said.

“Overall, we want to keep up the momentum of the current work environment by evolving work policies and procedures to accommodate our members and ensure retention of talent while being a magnet for the future workforce,” Androsky added.

The director of staff said improvements in technology and communications have made alternative workspace arrangements possible.

“Current telecommunications platforms, such as Teams CVR, allow collaboration and the ability for all to connect virtually via both audio and video,” she said. “It’s not the same as being there, but it adds the element of being in person by allowing people to raise their hand to speak and to go into breakout rooms to chat, among other things.”

Pawlak said the FWE working group is forecasting for 10-15 year future work environment projections to set directional vectors, but said the group’s work will be more iterative and based on a 24-month planning cycle due to the rapidly changing technological landscape.

Androsky said the FWE working group is planning for a future that is more than just telework or remote work.

“There’s a bigger strategic picture here,” she said. “As the command continues to design and build the AFRC campus at Robins, for example, the FWE working group is looking at how best to incorporate things like secure wifi, hoteling (reserving workstations), and collaborative work spaces into our future work environments.”

“This is a challenging, but extremely exciting, time for Air Force Reserve Command,” Pawlak said. “We want to be a leader in the area of successful alternative workplace arrangements. The Future Work Environment team will ensure we get there.”