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Why a Data Visualization Strategy Is Key to Effective Personnel Management

With data visualization tools and technology to keep track of staffing and employee development, agency leaders can effectively serve the needs of their workforce. Here’s how.

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For years, experts have been telling us that working from home increases productivity, but some had to see it to believe it. It wasn’t until remote work was largely mandated for the broader workforce that many employees and managers realized its value. Originally intended as a short-term solution to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, remote work has now become the new normal — and some organizations may never go back. 

Of course, this move to telework has also required agencies to conduct operations a little bit differently, and that’s taken some getting used to. This is especially true in the case of personnel management and staffing. Government employees that once worked in the same physical office are now signing on from disparate locations. As a result, staff members have varying needs based on where they’re working. For example, an employee working in a city where COVID-19 cases have recently spiked may have to take different safety measures and precautions than an employee in a safer location. Moreover, other factors, like weather conditions or natural disasters, may impact an employee’s ability to do their jobs effectively. With these factors at play, agencies must now keep track of where employees are so that they can ensure their safety and better account for employee productivity and performance. 

That’s a tall order, especially for agencies already tasked with meeting the high volume of citizen demand for services like healthcare, unemployment benefits and financial loans. But with data visualization tools and technology to keep track of employee staffing and development, agency leadership will be well-positioned to serve the needs of both their constituents and their workforce. 

Making the Case for Data Visualization 

The average HR or personnel manager has a long list of priorities: onboarding new employees, communicating employee benefits and creating a diversity and inclusion strategy, to name a few. But today, personnel managers are tasked with yet another endeavor: ensuring employees are adjusting to work-from-home. 

But how exactly can agency leaders gain this insight if they can’t meet face-to-face with their employees? Enter: data visualization and analysis platforms. Through comprehensive dashboards that aggregate data in real-time, data visualization offers managers increased visibility into their workforce. 

“Data Visualization is really driving operational efficiency during this pandemic for civilian agencies in so many ways,” said Jennifer Nowell, regional vice president of Federal Civilian Sales at Tableau. “We have really seen a boost in usage of dashboards and visualizations across the public sector during this pandemic because people consume and absorb visual content better.” 

One of the most compelling characteristics of data visualization is the ability to communicate information in an accessible and digestible way. For the majority of people, it’s much easier to identify trends and patterns by looking at a graph or map than having to sort through hundreds of thousands of rows in an excel spreadsheet. In fact, the human brain processes visuals a whopping 60,000 times faster than they do text. 

For agency leaders, data visualization can help identify areas for improvement across the enterprise. 

“For executives, these dashboards start presenting where the holes are in their processes,” Tableau regional vice president of DoD, Leo Blackwell said. “It allows them to start focusing on how to better manage and transform their organizations toward the mission. Then you can turn those insights into action by conducting a gap analysis.”

For instance, an organization might use this data to explain how specific teams are performing against their goals, and whether or not one department is overloaded or working past its capacity. These insights can then be referred to during a performance review or used to make the case for hiring an additional employee. 

Supporting the Troops with Data 

It’s not just civilian agencies that are reaping the benefits — the Defense Department is also leveraging data platforms to better meet the needs of its servicemembers.

“One of the main considerations for leaders at the Department of Defense has to do with force readiness,” Blackwell explained. “It’s this question of, ‘Do I have the personnel and the resources available to be ready?’ And COVID obviously now adds a new variable to answering that question. So increasingly, we’re seeing data visualization being leveraged to help commanders understand their force readiness.”  

DOD can also leverage these dashboards to gain insight into COVID-19 hotspots around the country and the world, ensuring that active-duty servicemembers stay safe and take necessary precautions amid the global health crisis. 

Driving Decisions Around Return-to-Work

While some organizations will continue to allow employees to telework after COVID-19, others are beginning to think about what a return to the office might look like. Data is here to help.

Health and Human Services organizations, for instance, are critical to navigating the impact of COVID-19 in communities across the country. But many of these agencies rely on large sets of data to inform their mission. According to a 2016 white paper, underwritten by Tableau, 74% of HHS agencies relied on spreadsheets to present their data. To deliver better citizen services, these agencies began to tap data visualization platforms and capabilities to present that data in a more digestible way. 

These visualizations have become particularly useful in the wake of COVID-19, serving as a trusted resource for organizations looking to return to the office. 

“When we started talking about ‘return to work,’ there was data sourced from HHS integrated with data around county-level testing availability and hospital bed usage data,” Nowell explained. “Agency leaders used data visualization to compare this data against specific office locations so that they could plan a safe and strategic return to the office. It ultimately helped them maintain operational efficiency while resources were limited.”

The public sector has an obligation to deliver information and services to its constituents, but an agency’s success in this endeavor is ultimately dependent on attracting and retaining government workers who feel empowered to achieve their organization’s mission. Data visualization capabilities alone won’t make that happen, but they can help agencies ensure their employees remain safe, productive and passionate about their work — whether they’re in the office or at home. 

Find out how your agency can improve personnel decisions by engaging with Tableau’s data visualization and analysis platform here.

This content is made possible by our sponsor Tableau; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of GovExec’s editorial staff.

NEXT STORY: How USAID Global Health Improves Data Sharing, Helps People in Need and Saves lives

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