The Coast Guard released the updated COVID-19 Agile Workforce Guide this week to provide commanding officers and managers with a common framework that can help protect the workforce while ensuring mission readiness. The purpose of the guide is to help assess risk and tailor mitigation measures in a safe, controlled, and thoughtful way.
The unique nature of Coast Guard assignments and missions means that individual units will face individual challenges. Even two units in the same geographic area could assess their own risk levels differently; the tools in this guide can help. Leaders must take an intrusive approach to prioritize employee wellness while ensuring mission readiness, and should make every reasonable effort to reduce barriers and resolve issues so employees can maintain our high standards of mission execution.
For command cadre in the 270-foot cutter fleet in Portsmouth, Virginia, COVID means every day is a new opportunity to show the workforce that leaders are more than just engaged, they care.
"The COVID environment requires us to practice intrusive leadership every day," stated Lt. Cmdr. Diana Ferguson, executive officer aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa. "It is no longer good enough to just ask ‘How are you doing? How is your family?’ In order to understand the challenges facing my crew, I need to understand the impacts COVID is having on their family stability, spouse’s work-life balance, dependent’s learning situations and more in order to identify innovative solutions to ensure they are ready to conduct the mission.”
“We have our crew split up into three work sections to limit exposure. We recently had a geo-bachelor with a potential exposure after contact tracing, so we were able to facilitate their move to temporary housing (the Portsmouth UPH) for a 2-week quarantine period,” Ferguson said.
"A lot of our members haven’t been able to see family or support systems in their lives in over a year and want to take leave, and we want to grant them that time. Granting leave has been a grueling and exhausting process for our command. Vetting trips for not only location but also the people they are visiting is time consuming, but we know we need to support our people," Ferguson continued. "Single parents and members with partners with in-person jobs are stressing about the impacts of getting underway while their children are in virtual and hybrid schooling environments this fall semester. We are exploring CGMA’s grants to help with computers and virtual tools and in-home child care. Grandparents are traveling to stay with children while members are underway but we are making sure that their families at home are supported too.”
Coast Guard Cutter Northland is also subscribing to "nimble is the new normal".
"Performing constant climate checks of your people is a necessity in order to assess the personnel readiness and resilience in the changing COVID work environment,” said Northland's executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Joshua DiPietro. "To keep pace with our unit's rapidly changing realities, we often revisit and update our crewmembers' individualized plans. Though we sometimes struggle to anticipate and adapt at pace with world developments, we keep ourselves grounded by always remembering the absolute importance of our vital mission. In regards to COVID, we have a saying on Northland: ‘We don't have to concentrate about what's "fair" as long as we all are committed to doing what's right.’"
“Close quarters situations are a given on a cutter and when outside support visits to conduct maintenance while we are in Charlie status, we have to be very concerned with PPE and exposure times,” DiPietro said. “We have also had to deal with COVID tests bringing back a false positive for a member. COVID has kept us hyper-vigilant and responsive, but we know we need to get downtime to counter the ever-changing environment. When my members are transparent and communicative in letting me know about a situation, that’s when I can be quick to respond and resolve a situation.”
The command at Training Center Yorktown (TRACEN Yorktown) also knows the new COVID environment requires fast and reliable communication
“In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic was a spark for us to accelerate our plans to modernize Coast Guard training,” said Capt. Randall Brown, TRACEN Yorktown’s executive officer. “The generation of learners in the Coast Guard are more tech-savvy and ready to learn in a virtual environment, so this situation required us to look at several methods of training delivery. TRACEN Yorktown is excited for the opportunity to learn from this rapid development and continues to modernize how we prepare the workforce to meet our Coast Guard missions.”
“The command had to communicate with the instructors quickly so that they could then serve as the conduit to their students,” explained Lt. Elizabeth Tatum, Training Center Yorktown’s public affairs officer. “Vimeo was a great tool for the command to connect to its current and newly reported members. We used it to produce short video messages from our command cadre, which was more effective than All Hands emails to provide that priceless face-to-face communication. During COVID, we have a standing Public Information Officer (PIO) serving on the Incident Management Team at TRACEN Yorktown. That PIO drafts a message with a link to the command’s Vimeo message and a password to view it, and passes it to the officer of the day (OOD). All of our unit OODs have access to Alert Warning System (AWS) so they can send that message out to all of our members’ phones. Our command also produces longer quarterly All-Hands videos, where they can go into more detail on unit updates.”
As FORCECOM brings more traditionally in-person courses to the virtual environment, they have had to adapt their delivery platforms.
“CVR Teams has been crucial for recreating face-to-face learning even for operational simulations,” Tatum said. “The Maritime SAR Planning course has been very happy with using the platform for all of their instruction. Some TCY instructors also use the Defense Collaboration Service (DCS) to present course material, while students call into a conference line for audio. We are making these technology tools work for us.”
Here’s what you need to know about the Agile Workforce Guide:
• The Guide provides two optional forms to help commands talk with their employees about high-risk health factors (High Risk Certification, CG-6300B) and irreconcilable home issues (Irreconcilable Home Issues, CG-6300C). Both are located on the Coast Guard (CG) Authorized Forms page (open in Chrome browser). These forms are not intended for Cost Guard Auxiliary or Non-Appropriated Fund (NAF) employees.
• As commands review travel and leave requests, they can research state-by-state status by visiting https://web.csg.org/covid19/.
• A Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) One-Stop Portal page is live at: https://cg.portal.uscg.mil/units/cg113/PPE_One_Stop/SitePages/Home.aspx
• The Guide’s four annexes include tools to help commands with the following:
o Annex A: Examples of Mitigation Strategies and Best Practices
o Annex B: Template for developing a phased OPLAN
o Annex C: Mass Gathering Risk Assessment for official ceremonies and morale events
o Annex D: DoD’s Health Protection Condition terminology and framework information