'We Leaned in and Worked a Lot of Long Hours'

Dionne Dent-Lockett

Acting Executive Director, Human Capital Services Center/Chief Learning Officer
Veterans Affairs Department (Atlanta)

What is your current work situation?

I have five geographic locations around the country. So the majority of our team is working from home. Most days, we're very flexible with work at home or in the building. Just we have people that work in very remote areas where they don't have the luxury of having internet service in their homes. So they're absolutely welcome to come into our work environment; they're safe there.

When and how did you find out that the country was going on lockdown, and how did your job change? 

[My boss] had a calming voice, a calming spirit and allowed us to obediently dispatch our staff home, think outside the box to get it done, and be able to do everything we could to assist ... not only the federal government and our veterans with getting treatment and later on vaccines, but making sure our employees and staff were safe and had the equipment and the technology to work from home. …

So I think that I have to be honest with you. It was very scary. The COVID-19 pandemic, early on in March, we didn't know how it was transmitted. We didn't know how to treat it. We didn't know who would have it, who would later on pass away from it, we didn't know to what extent we had already been exposed. But I think that the federal government and the Department of Veterans Affairs did an excellent job in making us feel safe.

How has your work-life balance changed, and what do you think your “new normal” will look like?

We leaned in and worked a lot of long hours. But again, all necessary. All in an effort to treat society and treat our most vulnerable veterans and get them vaccinated. So leaning in and making sure that society and veterans and caregivers and employees are safe, was never a problem. working extra hours at all. ...But you know, as a federal employee, and as a leader, I've never been a punch-the-clock kind of person, so we all leaned in until a mission was accomplished.

What were some challenges for you over the past two years, and how did you work through them? 

Of course, the awful thing was anytime we lost employees and veterans to the pandemic, before the vaccines and things were available. It's very emotional. You know, these are our staff members. These are people that served our country. And it's very emotional when we lose any of them.

Have there been any positive changes?

In the pandemic, the agency gave us an enormous amount of resources to de-stress to prioritize. They stressed [for] us to be safe. …

I learned a lot about supply chain. Even though that is not my job. I am almost a pro at supply chain right now.

Would you go back to the way it was before the pandemic if you could? 

Is it 100% the new normal? I don't think so. Because there's absolutely the benefit of sometimes working face-to-face and collaborating because people are different types of learners. And I have visually impaired employees, hearing impaired employees, I have employees that prefer to come into the office and work collectively in a group.

Click to return to read the rest of the pandemic stories.

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