In response to the fast-spreading coronavirus, government agencies and organizations are joining the fight to reduce the spread of the virus by maximizing teleworking – the practice of working from home or a location other than a regular duty location.
The Space and Missile Defense Command is joining this fight by also optimizing telework options. The command’s goal is to minimize the number of team members in SMDC facilities at any one time by increasing the number of teleworkers and encouraging staggered work hours and flexible schedules for team members who need to be onsite.
“This is very new for many of us. Please be patient,” Col. Brian Kastning, SMDC deputy chief of staff, G-6, said. “Before you telework, know how to connect to SMDC networks with your laptop from home and how to access your email – don’t try and figure it out at home – know exactly what to do before you leave the office.”
Kastning explained that the biggest issue with so many staff members teleworking is the capacity of the network. In the last few weeks, the number of SMDC teleworkers has increased by 10 times.
“Across the Department of Defense, none of us were prepared for COVID-19 and the huge numbers of teleworkers that we now have,” Kastning said. “We have limited laptops across the command and our networks can only handle so many connections from teleworkers at one time. G-6 engineers have been working very hard to deliver this capacity and our numbers will continue to grow.”
Kurt Woods, SMDC’s Technical Center executive officer, splits his workdays between teleworking and working from the office.
“Due to the variety of computers, smart card readers and operating systems, it is necessary to be patient and follow the steps provided for setting up your personal system,” Woods said. “It took me two hours to get configured, and that involved a few workarounds and some troubleshooting – my advice is to keep at and don’t get frustrated.”
Kastning said teleworkers who run into technical difficulties should call the SMDC Help Desk for over-the-phone assistance, although some issues may require staff to bring their computers into the office. The Help Desk number for Huntsville employees is 955-1593 and (719) 554-2030 for Colorado Springs employees.
Kastning warned that using certain applications while connected to the network may slow it down for everyone.
“We block the recreational streaming sites. The thing to watch for especially when working from home are news sites that stream video,” Kastning said. “It’s OK to visit news sites, just don’t let a news video start playing automatically. Videos from Army and DOD training sites are acceptable though.”
While there may be a few obstacles to overcome, teleworking can provide much needed flexibility for employees. Rhonda Norris, chief of SMDC G-8’s Integration Division, has been teleworking since January 2017, and offers some best practices for new teleworkers to be productive and efficient while away from the office.
“Set up a dedicated comfortable workspace with no visual or audio distractions in your view or earshot,” Norris said. “You can always find work that needs to be done or use lulls as an opportunity to be proactive in accomplishing tasks you always wish you had time to do. Just like working on-site, telework is an opportunity to excel if you choose.”
While away from the office, communication is key to staying connected with teammates and keeping projects on track. Kastning suggests Skype for Business as a resource to teams. While the Army does not allow voice or video, telepresence and the chat room feature can be utilized. Norris also has advice on how to stay connected while teleworking.
“I send an email to my co-workers and employees once I’m signed into my computer for the day so everyone knows I am available,” Norris said. “I stay actively engaged with my employees and fellow workers perhaps more when teleworking as I can be actively engaged on my computer while attending teleconference meetings. My employees have often said they want me to come back to work so they can slow down!”