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Successfully Remote – Moving Out of the Office and into Success

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 4th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2014 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick off the NextGen Training Summit on July 23rd in Washington, DC. We have 18 finalists in six different categories. All month long we will be introducing you to the finalists.

Meet the Finalist:

Who: Mika Cross, Work-life and Wellness Program Manager, USDA

Achievement: Finalist for the NextGen Silent Hero Award

“Mika Cross is a pioneer across government for the implementation of Telework and other Work-Life and Wellness Programs. Under Mika’s leadership, USDA has been able to assist other Federal Agencies across government to model their programs in a successful fashion, after its own. Her ideas for promising practices have been highlighted in OPM’s annual Telework Data Call to Congress and continue to showcase opportunities for the rest of government to use these flexibilities to effectively, and safely, continue governmental operations, during hazardous emergency conditions, including natural disasters (such as earthquakes and snow storms), and national security threats.” – Rebecca Ayers, Manager, Perfomance Management Solutions, OPM. Ayers nominated Cross for the Silent Hero Award.

The USDA is a leader in telework for the government. In fact, 75 percent of the department’s more than 90,000 employees are eligible for telework agreements, up from just 16,000 eligible employees in 2011.

USDA managers have embraced the ideas behind the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act requiring federal agencies to establish telework policies, notify employees who are eligible to telecommute and provide them with appropriate training.

Cross leads the USDA’s Telework Program and Work/Life portfolio, an integral component of Secretary Vilsack’s Cultural Transformation Initiative to establish USDA as a model employer of choice.

“Getting credibility for the important work in the areas of telework and work-life balance is amazing. I feel like so often for people in government, workplace flexibility and telework is regarded as just a soft benefit – it’s nice to have it, but not everyone can use it, and not everyone should (based on the kind of work they do),” said Cross. “I feel like this award brings such credibility and validity to the impact of Work/Life and Wellness Programs across government.”

Cross isn’t just working on these issues at the USDA. “My job has really evolved over the last three years, into not just helping internal USDA employees, but kind of opening the gates to leveraging our best practices, lessons learned, success stories, and information that could really help the rest of government implement telework and work-life programs in a strategic fashion.

“I feel like it’s our responsibility, as a government, to share information and make things better if we can.”

Cross has positioned USDA as a leader in the field by strategically linking flexible workplace programs to USDA’s overall human capital strategy for recruitment of top talent, the retention of current employees, and raising the level of employee job satisfaction and worker productivity.

Cross noted the USDA success is a team effort. “I have to give credit to my senior leaders who were really committed to undergoing a cultural transformation. Where I think the synergy between what their vision was, and what I could accomplish for them, was sort of as a collaborator and a networker and a connector of dots.”

Cross worked with the mobility and the information technology security teams so USDA could overcome challenges and barriers to remote work, rather than just focusing going out independently and developing those polices. “We were able to work together, so I could bring in the human resources policy piece; they were able to bring in the infrastructure or technology piece, versus the facility piece which helps transform how we work and where we work.”

The efforts are paying off. In a 2011 essay on USDA’s telework efforts, Cross wrote that when real estate, employee turnover, absenteeism and productivity are all taken into account, the program could yield as much as $250 million in annual savings for the agency.

And remote work isn’t just a financial boom. “If our employees, who are doing the work of government, feel as though they can manage the requirements outside of work in a way that they’re able to bring their best to the workplace wherever that might be, then ultimately customer service is enhanced, and what we do on behalf of the American public, is then a little bit better,” said Cross. “Employees feel engaged, and they feel valued, and they feel supported. And that’s important.”

Battling back against the culture and perception of government has been a huge challenge, but one that Cross said they have been able to overcome. “In my experience, I’ve worked in government as a military service member, I’ve worked in the intelligence community, I worked at the Department of Agriculture in executive department, and now at the Office of Personnel Management. I would love for there to be some good press about all the good work that goes on in government, and that people really are dedicated to their jobs and working hard to try to find better ways to do things.”

Cross said she works for the government, “Because I believe in my country, and I believe that the work that we do across government is so important for the safety and the security and the sustainment of our nation. And that’s important to me.”

What’s Cross favorite part about her job? “I think my favorite part is the ability to connect people, to showcase the good stuff that’s really going on, but also to acknowledge that organizations and people in agencies aren’t out there alone,” said Cross. “What energizes me, is to be able to really leverage, from a knowledge management perspective, the things that are going well so that other organizations and other people can adapt best practices and do things a little bit better for their own lives or the way that they work, or for their organizations in order to just increase efficiency of how their mission operates.”

We will be talking to all the NextGen Public Service Award finalists in the upcoming weeks. See the full list here. And register for NextGen!

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David B. Grinberg

I’ve had the opportunity to work with Mika on several occasions. She is an exemplary public servant and a professional role model for understanding and enhancing workplace flexibility, work-life and wellness programs government-wide.

If any fed deserves an award for superior public service and achievement, it is mostly certainly Mika. Telework is not an easy sell for every agency and every manager. However, Mika has been instrumental in helping agencies to discard negative stereotypes about telework and instead focus on the many positive results for management and employees alike.

Thank you, Mika, and good luck — you’ve got my vote!

Also, check out this telework blog post in case you missed it (featured on GovLoop and LinkedIn):