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Louisville District employees adjust to new norm

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
Published Aug. 10, 2020

Like most businesses and organizations across the country, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District continues to adjust to the new norm in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


In early March, the Louisville District followed suit with the U.S. Army and the rest of the USACE enterprise by encouraging maximum telework to care for the safety and well-being of their employees and families while still executing USACE missions.


“The health of our workforce remains our top priority across all levels of USACE leadership,” said Louisville District Commander Col. Eric Crispino.


For many employees, working remotely is a new way to do business. Balancing workload with family needs at home has required district employees to be flexible.


“As working parents, we continue to deliver the mission without fail, despite juggling so many different stresses in life,” said one employee. 


“I think 2020 is teaching me to stay adaptable and be comfortable with not knowing,” said another employee. 


District leadership developed a workforce reintegration plan, which is constantly evolving in response to the ever-changing pandemic. 


“I am very proud of the Louisville District,” said Denise Bush, Contracting Division chief. “They are leading the way with telework and innovative means to make this work.”   


District leaders work hard every day to take care of their employees while ensuring business continues as usual.


“Our managers have taken great strides to implement the right protocols and to help ensure that we remain in alignment with local, state and federal guidelines,” said Tim Fudge, Operations Division chief. “We have been able to place first priority on protecting our employees in Operations Division, ultimately helping to protect reliable operation and maintenance of our critical infrastructure.”


The district is currently in Phase 2 of the reintegration plan, meaning that up to 50 percent of the workforce is able to return to the office, while following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended guidelines for social distancing and using prevention measures such as wearing face coverings. 


Although change can be difficult for some, Louisville District employees have risen to the challenge. 


“It was a struggle at first adjusting to the inability to walk up to someone and have a face-to-face conversation. I have adapted by using the Skype and Jabber feature and following up more frequently on emails,” said Jennifer Ott, Louisville District Financial Management analyst. “The largest adjustment for me has been taking care of my 4 and 6-year-old children. I still have to work, and they need to be respectful of my work time.”  


Ott says there are several advantages that come along with telework.


“The amount of time I save on preparing for and travelling to and from work has allowed me more time for family activities and chores around home. It has also saved me significant amounts of money on fuel and vehicle maintenance. And, the lack of travel has increased my level of safety in the fact that I am not on the road, in traffic, and in danger of being involved in accidents,” Ott said. “While working in the office I had regular visitors with questions that would cause me to pause what I was working on. Telework has shifted a lot of those questions to some form of written communication. This has allowed more time to focus on tasks and answer questions based on priority.”  


There have also been disadvantages, which have been challenging for employees.


“It is difficult to work without dual monitors. Connectivity issues and lack of hard copy documents that are in the office have made some tasks more difficult,” Ott said. “A very big hardship with telework is the inability to interact in-person with coworkers, who are often considered more like close friends or family than just coworkers,” she added. 


Bush agreed that the lack of resources and face-to-face interaction has been a downfall.


“I do miss having a printer,” Bush said. “And you cannot see facial expressions (in meetings) to know if something is well received or not.”


Supervisors agree it is still important to see people face-to-face to make sure they are okay and not stressed, which is harder when teleworking.     

 
“The primary downside to telework for me personally is not being able to see my employees in person and visually verify that they are doing ok and have some face-to-face interaction (6' apart of course),” Fudge said. “We do utilize Skype quite often to touch base.”


This new way of doing business has changed the perspective of some senior leaders.


“My perspective of telework has changed,” Bush said. “I am more open to those employees who work independently to allow them to telework more often.”


Fudge says he has always been a proponent for telework and breaking out of the normal, traditional day-in day-out office setting.


“This pandemic has proven that telework is a viable option for our workforce and provides maximum flexibility for us as an organization,” Fudge said. “Having the ability to work remotely is a great recruitment and retention tool and definitely enhances work-life balance for our people.”  


Many employees applaud the district’s flexibility with employees to make the decision that works best for them, whether that be telework or coming into the office.


“While teleworking was a great option for many of our employees, I thought it was important that, if we did have employees here still working in the building, we always had someone from upper management here in case of an emergency,” said John Allison, Engineering Division deputy chief who has continued to come into the office. “I really have appreciated the district's willingness to be flexible to all situations during this pandemic.” 


The Louisville District’s number one priority is the health and well being of he workforce. With the uncertainty of what lies ahead with COVID-19, they will continue to take great care in thoughtful action and do all they can to provide the right kind of support to employees while using all of the tools at their disposal to continue executing the mission, according to Fudge. 


Crispino recently thanked employees for their service in an e-mail address and applauded their flexibility and creativity to ensure the district’s success during this unprecedented time.


 “We certainly have longer to go in this fight, but as a team, we can continue to flatten the curve while delivering for our stakeholders and partners,” Crispino said. “Throughout the first months of my command, I have seen dedicated, innovative and passionate employees striving to ensure that despite the challenges we face, we continue to execute the mission in support of our nation.”