Leadership at Marshall Space Flight Center held their first live virtual town hall Sept. 3. Marshall Director Jody Singer, Deputy Director Paul McConnaughey and Associate Director Steve Miley discussed a number of topics and answered questions submitted by team members.
The coronavirus pandemic and its effect on working locations remained a focal point, as did the significant accomplishments achieved by Marshall team members over the last several months, both virtually and on-site. Singer noted impressive accomplishments by the Human Landing System Program, Payload Operations Integration Center, Commercial Crew Program, Earth Science Disasters Support Team, and IXPE team.
McConnaughey recognized work done by the Engineering Directorate, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Office of Center Operations, and by mission support personnel in procurement, logistics and communications.
“I’m so proud of the team,” Singer said, “for how you’re moving forward, regardless of where and how you’re working.”
All NASA centers and facilities are at Stage 3 of the agency’s Framework for Return to On-Site Work. Singer and other center directors have closely monitored COVID-19 cases at their respective center, and they agreed that it was best to wait until after Labor Day before reassessing any stage transitions.
“At Marshall, we’re turning on (on-site) work very diligently and very methodically, with risk-based assessments,” Singer said. “That will still be a critical part of what we do in Stage 2. We have to make sure that we don’t put any of our workforce into critical-risk areas. We are looking at all the information around us, locally and nationally, and stay in sync with Redstone Arsenal as far as protocols.”
The majority of Marshall’s workforce has teleworked since March 16. Singer and McConnaughey praised team members’ mission execution during the time of telework.
McConnaughey acknowledged the challenges of such a setup – including helping children with virtual school and caring for elderly parents – and that many are working more hours from home than they did at the office. He asked that team members extend extra patience and understanding to co-workers, and encouraged workers to communicate challenges to supervisors.
McConnaughey reminded civil servants that multiple options are available for leave: 20 hours of excused leave per pay period for dependent care, a new paid parental leave that is available Oct. 1, and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act for paid sick leave. He also urged civil servants to take advantage of their annual leave.
“Please take time to be kind to yourself,” he said. “Take time to step away from your job, if you feel like you can’t do it. Do things that you need to do to manage your physical, mental and spiritual sanity.”
Because Marshall team members have shown the ability to accomplish numerous tasks via telework, such an arrangement is expected to be an option to many in a post-pandemic environment, Miley said.
“With a blended work environment, there will be more use of telework and a lot more use of flexible office space for our center,” he said “This is not unique to Marshall. There is an agencywide team looking at a blended work environment and expanded telework.”
Beginning Sept. 25, Marshall’s Flex Friday will switch to the second Friday of the pay period. This change comes in order to align Flex Friday with the agency’s new Quiet Friday initiative, which aims to set aside a day with no meetings. This will offer team members a set day to focus on work priorities and deadlines without meeting interruptions, allowing for work-life balance and the ability to take time off without feeling pressure to be available for meetings. Miley said that Marshall will not change its Flex Friday setup, which allows civil servants the flexibility to work 80 hours over nine days, and take every other Friday off.
“Don’t worry if you have something planned far in advance on an original Flex Friday date,” Miley said. “We are going to ask our supervisors to help you with flexibility around shifting your Flex Friday, if you need to, in order to make it sync up with the agency Quiet Friday.”
Contractors should check with their program manager for guidance on how to observe Quiet Friday.
“It takes all of us to keep the center running and to deliver on our missions,” Singer said, as she closed the virtual meeting. “We just can’t let our guard down. We’ve been very successful in many ways of avoiding transmission on-site because of the great job you are doing and because of the protocols. Please, keep up the good work and continue to let us know how we can help you.”
Ediitor’s note. Daniel Boyette, an ASRC Federal/Analytical Services employee and Marshall Star editor, supports the Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications.