by Ryan Labadens, U.S. Navy Public Affairs

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started hitting the country earlier this year, the public, private companies and government agencies at local, state and federal levels have been trying to help curb the spread the disease in a variety of ways. One policy the Department of Defense (DoD) revised for COVID-19 to help protect its employees and maintain social distancing is the Telework Policy, which was recently extended to June 30, 2021.

Leadership at Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport has been trying to maximize this policy wherever it can, taking into account both the health and safety of the people on base and maintaining mission effectiveness.

One recent change in March of this year was allowing employees to telework, even if there was a child or other person in the home requiring care or supervision. Previously this was not allowed.

While the change to policy originally was slated to last through Dec. 31, 2020, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the need for employees with dependent children needing care while they were out of school, were factors in extending telework capabilities through June of 2021, said Kevin Gillam, NCBC Gulfport installation plans, programs and readiness integrator.

Gillam noted that while the DoD and the Navy has made telework available to certain employees even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this particular policy allows employees greater flexibility in their work schedule throughout the week in case they need to care for children or other dependent people living in their household.

“Due to COVID and efforts to follow social distancing guidelines, previous telework rules were relaxed to be more flexible. A lot of children were out of school or daycare and needed home supervision. What the change to policy does is allow employees to be home and have flexible hours to help balance work and family responsibilities. That’s the flexibility that was given in March, and that same flexibility has been extended to 30 June,” said Gillam.

Many departments with positions that can telework have developed workarounds that have not only allowed them to fulfill their mission requirements, but also develop new ways to help achieve them. Barbara Jones, the Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) director onboard NCBC Gulfport, noted that even with the majority of her employees teleworking, FFSC has still been able to find innovative ways to serve Sailors and their families.

“Telework has been very successful for us at FFSC, despite it being a new experience,” said Jones. “The result is that it has expanded customer access to many of our programs.”

Jones noted that the ability to telework during the pandemic has given FFSC employees the opportunity to offer various avenues for Sailors and their families who want to use their services.

“Providing both in-person and virtual support during this pandemic, FFSC Gulfport continues to explore new ways to provide greater access,” said Jones.

Cmdr. Ross Pitcairn, NCBC Gulfport executive officer, reiterated the importance of teleworking in helping keep people safe.

“Ultimately the purpose of teleworking is to help protect the workforce from COVID-19,” said Pitcairn.