Should the DoD’s Tech Professionals Work From Home—Permanently?

Illustration of workers at desktop designed as the American flag
Illustration: iStockphoto

By: Tekla S. Perry

With tech companies announcing plans to continue allowing—and even encouraging—employees to work remotely beyond the end of the pandemic, the U.S. Defense Innovation Board has urged the Department of Defense to improve its own work from home policies.

In a September report, the board, an advisory committee to the Secretary of Defense, pointed out that the DoD “has traditionally struggled to compete for digital talent,” and “the emerging work from home norm creates an opening for the Department to either adapt and narrow the gap or fall further behind in competing for top-notch technical talent.”

Right now, the Department of Defense is allowing some employees to work remotely, using standard remote collaboration tools with an extra layer of security, but has not decided whether use of these tools will be permitted after workers return to the office. The Defense Innovation Board’s report argues that not only should these tools be preserved, but the use of such tools, along with accompanying infrastructure upgrades, should be expanded. Embracing remote work permanently would, the report claims, allow the DoD to hire a “more agile, diverse, and distributed workforce.”

In addition to urging the DoD to follow in the footsteps of commercial tech employers, the Defense Innovation Board made a few suggestions that I haven’t seen coming from tech businesses, and which those firms might want to embrace in return.

For one, the Board suggested that the DoD create “a nationwide network of dedicated co-working or shared workspaces” for remote work. This, it suggested, might be a way of handling classified work in a more distributed fashion, but it also could be a way for businesses to better fulfill the desires of employees to live wherever they want, but work some number of days each week at home and some in an office.

In another suggestion, the Board urged that, as part of an effort to change the culture around remote work, that senior DoD leaders “should commit to periodically working from home to model behavior, norms, and expectations around performance and presence; this will also create a demand for IT capabilities to remain up-to-date and not atrophy.”

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 26 October 2020.