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The White House Wants to Make Work Cool Again

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2010 – Kicking off the first White House Conference on Workplace Flexibility yesterday, the First Lady told a her own story about trying to be a professional and a Mom at the same time.

While on maternity leave with Sasha, she got a call for an interview. “I had to scramble to look for babysitting, and couldn’t find one. So what did I do? I packed up that little infant, and I put her in the stroller, and I brought her with me. . . . it was fortunate for me that . . . she slept through the entire interview. And I was still breastfeeding—if that’s not too much information. (Big chuckles from the audience.) . . . I got the job.”

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WASHINGTON, April 1, 2010 – Kicking off the first White House Conference on Workplace Flexibility yesterday, the First Lady told a her own story about trying to be a professional and a Mom at the same time.

While on maternity leave with Sasha, she got a call for an interview. “I had to scramble to look for babysitting, and couldn’t find one. So what did I do? I packed up that little infant, and I put her in the stroller, and I brought her with me. . . . it was fortunate for me that . . . she slept through the entire interview. And I was still breastfeeding—if that’s not too much information. (Big chuckles from the audience.) . . . I got the job.”

Michelle Obama went on to say that she’s discovered throughout her career that the more flexibility she gives her staff, the happier and less likely they were to leave.

Introduced as the Teleworker-In-Chief, President Obama described workplace flexibility as essential to the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses. “It affects the strength of our economy—whether we’ll create the workplaces and jobs of the future we need to compete in today’s global economy.”

The call for flexible employment opportunities couldn’t have been more clear.

Telecommuting, though just one strategy in the workplace flexibility arsenal, played a central role in the event. The President spoke of providing opportunities for federal employees to telework on a regular basis. “It’s about attracting and retaining top talent in the federal workforce and empowering them to do their jobs, and judging their success by the results that they get—not by how many meetings they attend, or how much face-time they log, or how many hours are spent on airplanes. It’s about creating a culture where . . . work is what you do, not where you are.”

Noting that two-thirds of American families with kids are headed by two working parents or a single working parent, the President referred to them as juggler families. “. . .every day is a high wire act.  Everything is scheduled right down to the minute.  There’s no room for error.”

“. . . this disconnect between the needs of our families and the demands of our workplace also reflects a broader problem, that today, we as a society still see workplace flexibility policies as a special perk for women rather than a critical part of a workplace that can help all of us. There’s still this perception out there that an employee who needs some time to tend to an aging parent or attend to a parent-teacher’s conference isn’t fully committed to his or her job; or that if you make a workplace more flexible, it necessarily will be less profitable.”

The President urged those organizations already successful at making work flexible to share their stories. “. . . if you’re doing this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because you’ve found that what’s good for your workers and is good for your families can be good for your bottom lines and your shareholders as well, then you need to spread the word.”
Dr. Christina Romer, head of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), announced the release of, Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility (http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/03/31/economics-workplace-flexibility). It offers an economic perspective on flexible workplace policies and practices. Job sharing, phased retirement of older workers, flexible hours, and provision of computers to facilitate telecommuting are some of the topics covered in the report.

John Berry, head of the Office of Personnel Management, spoke about how flex policies improve the government’s ability to hire and retain great people, “I want to make government (jobs) cool again.” He joked that “If flexibility can succeed in the federal government with the unrivaled complexity of our missions—as well as our red tape, quite frankly, it can succeed anywhere.” Berry also announced that 400 of his agency employees would be part of a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) pilot.

ROWE is a flexible work model created by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson while at retailing giant BestBuy. By allowing people to work where and when they want, BestBuy realized increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and increased employee loyalty, they said. Ressler and Thompson have since successfully deployed the model for other private and public employers.

Common themes of the conference included:

  • Increased productivity through flexible work;
  • The ability of flex policies to significantly reduce turnover and absenteeism;
  • The role of flexible work in allowing employees to pursue education;

“The increasing demand for analytical and interactive skills—those largely obtained through post-secondary education— means it is all the more important and common for individuals to pursue additional education while also working. These trends raise the value of flexibility in the workplace as it helps workers balance work and family responsibilities,” stated the new CEA study.

– The need for flex options at all job levels citing the fact that they are least available to those who need them the most.

Of course, without technology, remote work would not be possible. Addressing that and other challenges the President promised “where regulations are in the way, we’ll see what we can do to change them. Where new technology can help, we’ll find a secure, cost-effective way to install it. Where training is needed to help managers and workers embrace this approach, we’ll adopt the best practices from the private sector.” He joked, “I do not want to see the government close because of snow again.”

Making federal jobs cool again— it’s clear this is not your grandmother’s government.

Kate Lister, principal investigator at the Telework Research Network (TRN) and co-author of the popular-press book Undress For Success—The Naked Truth About Making Money at Home (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Her research has been cited in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Washington Post, and dozens of other publications. TRN's free web-based Telework Savings Calculator has been used by company and community leaders throughout the U.S. and Canada to quantify their own telework savings potential.

Public Safety

Lack of People Opting Into Emergency Alerts Poses Problems for Natural Disaster Scenarios

Disaster protocol experts remarked on lessons learned from fire outbreaks in Boulder County, Colorado.

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Photo of Lori Adams of Nokia discussing emergency communications response to Colorado wildfires at Mountain Connect by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 26, 2022 – A lack of people opting into local emergency alerts poses a severe challenge for public officials during natural disasters, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

The panel remarked on just how significant the number of people not subscribed to emergency alerts is during a panel on disaster preparedness at the annual Mountain Connect conference.

In Boulder, getting emergency alerts is on an opt-in basis, whereas in other areas, it is opt-in by default.

The specific focus of the panel was on lessons learned from the outbreak of fires in Boulder County, Colorado this past December.

Fires presented challenges for providers

Several challenges of managing a response to the fires were recounted.

Blake Nelson, Comcast’s senior director of construction, stated that some of his company’s underground broadband infrastructure buried at a considerable depth was still melted from the heat of the fires to cause service outages for customers. Thomas Tyler, no stranger to disaster response as Louisiana’s deputy director for broadband and connectivity through several hurricane responses, pointed out that it is quite possible local officials may be skilled in responding to one type of disaster such as a hurricane but not another like a tornado.

Screenshot of Blake Nelson, Jon Saunders, Wesley Wright and Thomas Tyler (left to right)

The panel also spoke to the challenges of coordination between essential companies and agencies if people do not have personal relationships with those who work at such entities other than their own.

Successful emergency responses to service outages during disaster serve as models for the future, with Nelson stating the internet provider opened up its wireless hotspots to temporarily increase service access and Tyler saying that standing up Starlink satellite internet access helped bring broadband to Louisiana communities only accessible by bridge or boat during their periods of disaster.

Conversation moderator Lori Adams, senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, suggested keeping town servers not in municipal buildings but rather off site and Wesley Wright, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, recommended the Federal Communications Commission’s practice of developing strong backup options for monitoring service outages.

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Education

Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.

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Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group SIIA, formerly known as the Software and Information Industry Association. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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