FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Water-cooler conversations that help employees bond have taken a new form for employees in Defense Logistics Agency Acquisition. The 300-plus workforce has found that digital newsletters are just as affective at boosting camaraderie and making individuals feel part of the team.
When COVID-19 led to mass telework and shutdowns in March 2020, DLA Acquisition Director Matt Beebe and Deputy Director Roxanne Banks sought new ways to keep employees engaged with one another. The office already had weekly action and situation reports, so John Pastino, a procurement analyst in the Acquisition Support Group, suggested a focus on more personal topics.
“I went with my gut and life experience, which told me most people need interaction with others. Getting everyone to share things that helped us all smile and know one another better could go a long way,” he said.
Initial ideas included group lunches over Skype or Zoom and DLA-themed crossword puzzles, but staff settled on a weekly newsletter, the first of which Pastino and Mike Fitts, a multimedia management analyst in the directorate, released April 17, 2020. The three-page issue featured tips for connecting to the DLA network and successful video conferencing, a photo montage of employees bidding farewell to a retiring coworker and photos of employees showing off their choice of face masks – one person comically donning a gas mask.
The next issue was seven pages and included tales of pets dominating employees’ new work space, one employee’s step-by-step photos for cooking turnip greens, snapshots of another employees’ newborn boy and details on how to request a government-issued iPhone.
“People wanted to share everything from what type of home projects they were working on in their off-duty time to pictures of their gardens and kids’ graduations,” Pastino said. “Before the pandemic, five or six people would gather around someone’s cube for this, but now we’re engaging with the entire acquisition staff.”
The newsletter maintained its weekly schedule for a couple months and drew appreciation from numerous employees, but Fitts and Pastino found collecting submissions and designing the content so labor-intensive that publication became monthly. While Pastino alerts employees to current and feature themes and collects input, Fitts uses his background as an illustrator and draftsman in the Navy to lay out the newsletter in Photoshop and PowerPoint.
“It’s a challenge to bring it all together in a product people enjoy looking at, but I thoroughly enjoy doing it,” Fitts said, adding that he uses color and various graphic elements to emphasize content.
In March, acquisition leaders asked that each division start submitting stories on current initiatives and acquisition-related topics. Stories in the 31-page July issue, for example, described acquisition training available to employees; work by the DLA Acquisition Red Team, which reviews and provides insight on acquisitions that pose risks; and introductions of employees joining DLA Acquisition on rotational job assignments.
Fitts gets ideas for what news to include during regular division chief meetings.
“When I hear something that’s interesting, I reach out to the division to see if I can get a story and pictures that help tell our audience what’s happening,” he said, adding that the product has become as educational as it is entertaining.
Response from employees like Mary Davis, a spare parts logistics advisor, make Fitts believe the extra work he and Pastino do is worthwhile. Davis was deployed to Afghanistan on a DLA Support Team when she received the first newsletter, which became a welcome reprieve from her 12-hour workdays.
“It was a little piece of home and made such a big difference in my morale,” she said. “With COVID going on, I couldn’t travel back for leave, so the newsletter was a welcome distraction.”
A DLA employee of almost 20 years, Davis added that the newsletter gave her a glimpse of people’s family lives.
“I’ve met people who’ve grown up to have kids and even grandkids at this point, and through the weekly themes and photos, I was able to discover new things about my coworkers,” she continued.
Davis will become a contributor herself in the fall by submitting photos of herself as a soldier in the Army for an issue highlighting veterans.
The newsletter won’t disappear when employees return to the office, Fitts said. He and Pastino will continue encouraging employees to share content that makes them smile and expect to increase coverage of events like senior leader visits involving employee recognition and stories highlighting new acquisition developments.