By Kevin Davis, Vice President & GM, Marathon TS

As the country slowly emerges from COVID, we are confronting a seismic shift to recruitment dynamics the likes of which have not been seen since the emergence of the gig economy. In an effort to monitor productivity and encourage collaboration, most companies and government agencies followed a traditional model that brought employees together into central hubs to physically work side-by-side. Working from home was a concept that seemed more quirky than transformative.

And then the pandemic struck. Within weeks, entire corporations and governmental entities emptied, pivoting to fully remote operations. This state of affairs remained in place for months, proving that the business of the day could indeed be completed by a geographically dispersed workforce.

Over time, employees began to appreciate the benefits of remote employment: no traffic to fight, no high gas or parking bills to pay, more flex to the standard business day, and fewer office politics to cope with. People decided they were comfortable with the “new norm.” They wanted to continue to work remotely. Once untethered from a physical workspace, employees also discovered the joys of living wherever they wanted for however long they wanted. This has a lot of appeal to a mobile, young, unattached generation.

But now that we are emerging from the era of strict lockdowns and social distancing,
government agencies in particular want to return to the traditional office model. They want their people back onsite. A few agencies are willing to embrace the cost savings associated with a remote workforce. Others are offering hybrid models with some opportunities for remote work. But even these forward thinkers would prefer to have staff within an hour radius so they can drop in for in-person meetings, training, and social gatherings.

The Consequences of the is New Tension

This shift has had a significant impact on the government and, in turn, on the companies that support them with contract labor or recruitment services. Uncle Sam used to be at the top of the food chain in the DC Metro area when it came to a highly-skilled talent holding top-level clearances. Now, people have been leaving government jobs in droves for the past 18 months. Agencies now compete in a vastly expanded geography.

Large companies in Texas, Silicon Valley, and even abroad—who see the value of tapping into a global labor market—are making head-first dives into this area’s elite and highly desirable labor pool. Their pitch? They don’t care where people sit. They have the policies, protocols, and processes in place to cope elegantly with a geographically dispersed workforce. Nor are they particularly constrained by the compensation standards of local markets. Highly skilled talent
can make California high-tech wages regardless of whether they work in LA, DC, or Kansas City.

Compounding the challenge is the fluidity of the situation. If we learned nothing else from the past 18 months, it’s that, as soon as you get a handle on the situation, it all changes again—fundamentally and rapidly. The take-away for the federal marketplace is that the agencies and companies that are agile—those that can pivot at a moment’s notice—those that are willing to work harder, source more deeply, and be creative in approaching passive candidates—those are the companies that will succeed in this new paradigm.

What started as an extraordinary reaction to a life-threatening virus and evolved into a beta test of a temporary inconvenience has now morphed into what can only be viewed as a permanent and fundamental change to the government’s traditional operational model and to the way we need to recruit and retain the best of the best. It is the new reality of public service and the work environment.

We welcome your comments and insights.