VICKSBURG, Miss. –
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the dynamic of everyone’s life. It has caused many to rearrange and re-align different facets of life from raising families and children, schools or education, recreation and travel, and jobs and careers.
Amidst this ever-changing atmosphere, the 412th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) allows its employees to return to the office after over a year of remote work and telework.
As of May 24, TEC Soldiers and civilians were counseled and directed by leadership to return to the BG George A. Morris Army Reserve Center in Vicksburg, Miss., and resume their daily work schedules.
“It will allow the unit to return to a new normal, with in-person operations,” said Mr. John L. Hewitt, TEC Chief Executive Officer. “Timing is critical and we are embarking on three months of higher operations tempo (OPTEMPO). We need to set a mark on the wall for the return, allowing our employees to get their lives and affairs in order.”
Hewitt also laid out steps to mitigate and prevent the spread of the virus in the facility during this transitory period.
“The situation will likely dictate the way-ahead,” said Hewitt. “We are maintaining our safety protocols and following higher headquarters guidance, whether that be CDC, DOD, and/or USARC. We will monitor the situation for new developments and adjust accordingly.”
Hewitt reiterated that doing this allows the TEC to regain synchronization, battle rhythm and timing. Attributing to these aspects, though cautious, several staff members were eager to return to the workplace.
Sgt. WyIntray Watts, a Human Resources noncommissioned officer, shared her thoughts on being back at work.
“I kind of missed working in the office, so I’m happy to be back,” said Watts.
Watts also missed the inter-office comradery and activities, such as potlucks, hail and farewells, and inter-section competitions. The idea of connection and normalcy is a fond memory and one missed by many, however, comfort and consistency might trump those factors.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lakesha Mosley, TEC Human Resources Technician, expressed that she was looking forward to the benefits of in-person collaborations, as long as they were done so safely.
“It's going to be an adjustment in my routine, and getting comfortable with being in the presence of others outside of my household,” said Mosley. “I feel as if I was more productive due to little to no outside distractions. I will miss the comfort of my home and, not commuting 30 minutes each way each day.”
The family dynamic is center for many Soldiers and civilians, and a consideration for some settling into the way forward.
Watts stated that she saved money for food and child care working from home. With family in mind, the idea of contracting or spreading the virus is still in the forefront of people’s minds.
“My family has concerns on what germs I will bring back into the household after being around others for longer periods of time,” said Mosley.
Watts, also family-oriented, shared the anxiety.
“I’m still concerned about catching COVID-19, and taking it home to make my family sick,” said Watts.
Some individuals had other concerns, beyond COVID-19 issues relating the downside of remote working.
Mrs. Daphne Cole-Smith, Equal Opportunity Specialist, and her family expressed their collective concerns, not only for COVID-19 issues, but for her work/home balance, as she felt overwhelmed by teleworking.
“Teleworking was extremely hard for my family and I” said Cole-Smith. “They were excited for me to get back in the office due the difficulties with the work/home balance.”
Hewitt expressed that telework/remote work should remain a component of TEC operations, and that lessons were learned through work, in and out of the office.
“I encourage each employee to have at least one telework day per week, allowing for project related work, deep work, and an opportunity to regroup, reflect, and then re-engage,” added Hewitt.
Moving forward, Hewitt is confident in the plan of action and safeguards, as the TEC employees continue best practices, educate staff on current policies and directives, and its fight against the spread of COVID-19.
“We have proven that our protocols are effective,” said Hewitt. “We have encouraged employees and Soldiers to vaccinate. Short of that, we conduct temperature checks at the entrance, enforce masks in the building, and social distancing is still pro forma. I appreciate the unit’s resilience and candor. Some have expressed their concerns, which is what we needed, if we are to get it right. I do recognize that COVID-19 remains a silent, persistent threat. We must remain vigilant.”