The U.S. Army was able to successfully utilize remote collaboration tools during the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed about 350,000 soldiers to feel connected while teleworking – despite being physically separated.

During MeriTalk’s CIO Crossroads webinar, “Lessons from Army: Foresight and Innovation Drive Army’s Pandemic Response,” Army Futures Command leaders and industry experts shared the Army’s telework successes as well as hopes for the future of telework and modernization within the service branch.

“I think the first thing that comes to mind from our experience was how to remain part of the collective team when you are physically separated from each other,” Kate Kelley, chief human capital officer at Army Futures Command said. “We at Army Futures Command certainly accelerated that distributed work model, much like everybody did. But the reality of trying to remain connected was really the biggest challenge.”

Kelley stressed that in the Army Futures Command, “it’s more likely” that employees are working as part of teams or groups and not so much as individual contributors.

“The ability for people to collaborate through tools was crucial,” she said. “I think what the Army was quite frankly forced to accelerate and recognize was that we had to really push the envelope in how we were going to do that in a safe and secure way. And perhaps we were not as willing to do that prior to COVID, but what COVID really forced us to take a look at was the reality of it had to be done. There was no option to literally not continue to work.”

In addition to being able to work, Kelley also recognized that utilizing remote collaboration tools “was also a way for people to remain humanly connected” during an uncertain time.

When moving to remote work, however, Army Futures Command CIO Colonel Dave Lamy emphasized that cybersecurity has to be top of mind. Lamy said the Army was able to increase its number of virtual private network (VPN) access points, allowing employees to dial in from their homes using a commercial service provider, and then access a secure Army network.

“The VPN capabilities give us that cybersecurity, which allows us to continue the operations, and is critically important. Where we need to get to, ultimately, is the expansion of those collaboration tools,” Lamy said. He stressed that “the adoption of either Office 365,” or a different collaboration tool “will most certainly drive DoD forward on our ability to collaborate.”

Going forward, Dan Kunze, mission account manager for Army business at ServiceNow, predicts that soldiers will be “digitally and mobiley native,” and he encouraged the DoD to continue to technologically innovate.

“The future of work 10 years from now is going to look fundamentally different than work did a year ago. And in the one-year period that we’ve had here, we’ve had a transformation that was worth 10 years of digital transformation in the first place,” Kunze said. “My hope is that our policy and our culture stays consistent and allows us to be able to adopt the technology that exists because 10 years from now the soldier that will be sitting in my position…will be digitally and mobiley native, they’re going to expect that experience anywhere that they work.”

“We can’t allow this opportunity to revert us back to what we were before. I think we need to advance into the future because that’s what’s being asked of us,” he added.

“We have to continue to innovate,” echoed Henry Sowell, head of Cloudera Government Solutions, Inc. “We cannot rest on ‘hey, look we did a lot of innovation just to get to this point.’ We have to understand that it is going to look different going forward.”

For the full discussion, view the webinar on demand.

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