Stories of Service: How the nation’s space agency is communicating with its workforce during the coronavirus pandemic

June 4, 2020

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, senior leaders at NASA recognized the importance of communicating with employees. They wanted to provide clarity about their COVID-19 response and emphasize their commitment to the health and safety of the workforce. To learn more about NASA’s communications approach, we spoke with Joel Carney, deputy associate administrator for the Office of Mission Support Operations.

Q: How are you communicating with your employees?

A: We have been coordinating employee communications through one source—our executive steering committee, which was initiated by NASA’s leadership in March. The committee includes members from a wide range of offices, including chief medical officer, procurement, IT and human resources. The committee has several communication methods, including emails, visual presentations, both live and pre-recorded virtual town hall meetings, and websites. One example is the NASA Coronavirus Response Information page, which is updated with new information and answers to frequently asked questions.   

NASA’s 10 space and flight centers spread throughout the country have been affected by COVID-19 in different ways, so we’ve worked with each to develop an approach that is most appropriate for their circumstance and prioritizes employee health and safety.

Q: What risks have been involved with communicating with your employees?

A: As COVID-19 was evolving at a rapid pace, we knew we would not have all the right answers, but we committed to holding virtual town halls anyway. We did so prior to gauging the interest from the workforce, understanding the necessary IT requirements and knowing the high risk of holding live town halls.

NASA communications and IT teams developed a process and figured out our needs, and now we have the confidence that they are effective and have been well-received. While these do involve preparation, I believe we will continue to hold town halls even as we return to normal working conditions.   

Q: What lessons about communication have you learned?

A: Communicating over multiple platforms is key. While the town halls are great, our entire workforce doesn’t participate in all of them. Employees learn in different ways, and some are more comfortable seeking information on their own time as their schedules permit, including viewing our emails, websites and answers to FAQs. We have received constructive feedback, which we use to improve NASA communications and reach all employees. We are all learning during this phase of work.

We also learned that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work during times of change. We realized early on that the best way to protect employee safety and health while executing our mission was dependent on location and the type of work employees perform. As we begin to return employees to on-site work, we will juggle these variables and timelines. We’ll look at the opportunities that have arisen during the past few months and how we can use those to make our work more efficient and effective in the future.

Given NASA’s commitment to employee engagement, it’s no surprise that the agency ranks number one in the Best Places to Work rankings. Learn more at bestplacestowork.org.

For more on how agencies are communicating during COVID-19, read our Q&A with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.


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