Sandia National Laboratories is adopting a permanent hybrid workforce, increasing the number of telecommuters and remote workers across the organization. Sandia also plans to establish several hubs around the country that eventually will allow classified work to be done at secure locations other than those in New Mexico and California.
The move toward remote work was sparked by the pandemic, but over time has proven not only efficient, but a preferred option for some employees.
While the vast majority of Sandia employees have returned to on-site work, as of January Sandia had approximately 1,700 full-time telecommuters, 1,100 part-time telecommuters and 1,200 remote workers spread out around the country. That is about 30% of Sandia’s workforce.
The change has allowed some current employees to relocate to other states while staying with the organization. The hope is flexibility will also attract talented professionals who never considered coming to work for Sandia due to its physical locations.
“In a time where most companies are figuring out how to do business in a hybrid realm, Sandia cannot afford to not follow suit,” said Matthew-Ryan Morrell, manager of strategic site planning. “This offering is an added benefit to the workforce and helps us tap into job markets we had only dreamed of.”
A 2021-2022 remote work study conducted at Sandia showed significant increases in the number of qualified candidates applying for a remote position that was identical to an on-site position, demonstrating that remote work options are a competitive aid to recruitment and retention.
Re-evaluating where classified work can be done
Sandia’s mission of ensuring the U.S. nuclear arsenal is safe, secure and reliable comes with significant security responsibilities, a key consideration in opening hub sites in different parts of the country. Sandia already has identified multiple possible hub sites with immediate plans for three: Sandia’s Minnesota site, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Texas A&M University. Part of the hybrid plan includes identifying positions that weren’t traditionally hybrid compatible and adapting to support remote options.
“We are identifying partners for whom locating part of the Sandia workforce will be mutually beneficial. Texas A&M is eager to become a hub because they see it as a way to increase research collaborations and bring additional opportunities for their students,” said Jen Gaudioso, leader of the remote hub strategy and member of the Sandia Hybrid Task Force. “Sandia already has a footprint there; that gives students another career pathway.”
Opening up office space for others
As a significant portion of Sandia’s workforce has opted for remote or telecommuting work, Sandia is looking to make the best use of on-site office spaces. Building renovations have begun in nine facilities on the Albuquerque campus.
“From a facilities perspective, we are physically limited to the square footage we have to conduct work,” Morrell said. “Expanding the offerings for employees to telecommute or work remotely allows us not only to tap into new job markets, but it also means we are less constrained on square footage. That allows more work to be conducted, as we don’t focus on where people are physically doing their work.”
Office space designs are changing as Sandia prepares for the workforce of the future. New collaboration centers feature modern furniture and a more relaxed environment for individual work or team meetings.
Labs leadership also recognizes that hybrid work sometimes comes with IT challenges. As one way to answer that call, Sandia has created a drop-in Swift Bar for employees to get help with their IT issues. One is located off Kirtland Air Force Base at Sandia’s Innovation Parkway Office Complex, or IPOC, in Albuquerque and another at building 915 in Livermore, California.
“People wanted an area that they felt they could just go into and put their computer down and be like, ‘Help me, I have no idea what is going on,’” Morrell said.
Ensuring remote and telecommuting workers feel connected
Sandia recognizes the challenges in adapting to a hybrid workforce. A remote work study that Sandia released in 2022 showed remote workers often want ways to better connect with one another, or report feeling loneliness and uncertainty about their ability to advance in the organization.
As a result, Sandia introduced more regular formal and informal meetings. Some leaders also are experimenting by bringing team members on-site occasionally and focusing on activities that build connections and tie people to the mission. Some teams have held online team celebrations; others have taken part in virtual team building activities.
“I think we have to learn how to build community and a connection when we don’t see people every day,” Gaudioso said. “The water cooler conversations don’t take place, which are really important in creative work and the research environment. We need to be more intentional in making people feel connected and like they belong. So, I think it requires us to rethink how we build a sense of identity and community.”
Overall, Sandia has found managers and employees view remote work as beneficial because it provides flexibility for workers who would otherwise leave or not consider joining Sandia, and it does not have detrimental effects on productivity.
Sandia hopes to fully enact its hybrid model over the next five years by increasing the physical capacity of the lab, growing its nationwide workforce and improving access to resources that help further its mission.
“I don’t think Sandia knows all the answers, but we are essentially applying our learning mindset to figuring this out to attract and retain the workforce of the future,” Gaudioso said.
Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia Labs has major research and development responsibilities in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies and economic competitiveness, with main facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.
Sandia news media contact: Kim Vallez Quintana, [email protected], 505-537-3294