How Covid-19 Has Changed Government Affairs – Possibly Forever

Jan. 5, 2021

[Download Bloomberg Government’s 2020 compensation report for a look at trends in salary and benefits – and the impact of Covid-19 on government affairs.]

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a crisis across many industries, causing businesses to close, people to lose their jobs, and uncertainty to run rampant.

While it might not seem like the greatest toll to those working outside the government affairs industry, perhaps the biggest impact has been the transition of what were previously in-person events or meetings to be virtual. Meeting a potential client or welcoming a new member of Congress to office with a smile and wave through the computer screen just doesn’t have the same feel – not to mention the thought of a virtual Inaugural Ball.

The pandemic has had a profound effect on women in particular, as their roles in the home didn’t change when work became part of that equation.

But what will be the lasting impacts of Covid-19 on government affairs professionals? In what ways will the pandemic forever change the way you work?

The New Meaning of ‘Meeting’

If there were a playbook on government affairs for the period of time between an election and inauguration, it would include a lot of facetime (and we’re not talking about the app).

In addition to managing the flood of visitors to Washington, D.C., for the balls and meet-and-greets and welcome receptions, government affairs professionals put in a lot of time developing relationships with new members of Congress and learning about what issues will have the greatest impacts on their clients in the coming year. You’re also pitching your services and evaluating new clients.

“If I think about government relations and lobbying and strategy, I think about people that like to talk to people – they like their stories, they like to figure out what makes them tick, they like to figure out how to turn them around,” says Ivan Zapien, partner at Hogan Lovells and head of the firm’s government relations and public affairs practice. “How you do that virtually remains to be seen.”

Zapien, for one, thinks there are certain elements of the job that won’t be coming back once the work-from-home mandates have lifted.

“The conventions, the travel to members, the industry-specific conferences – all the entertaining that we do. A lot of that is gone, and I don’t think that it’s coming back,” he says.

[For a detailed overview of how to succeed through the post-election transition, check out our Post-Elections Guide to Navigating Washington.]

Staying Connected While Apart

Outside the excitement and hubbub of post-election transitions, the element of day-to-day interaction with co-workers and clients has also become a challenge.

Rich Gold, leader of Holland & Knight’s public policy and regulation group, has concerns that the longer the remote work continues, the more grueling it becomes for people.

“You can survive anything for three months or four months, or even six months, but if we’re still doing this next spring, it becomes very difficult to maintain the same culture and relationships with people that you used to see on a daily basis and now you may not even talk to them on a weekly basis,” Gold says. “There’s just that kind of psychological and sociological aspect to it that is wearing on people.”

Karishma Shah Page, partner at K&L Gates, believes the realities of remote working allows for positive culture changes that should last beyond the pandemic.

“We challenged ourselves at the front end to have a stronger culture when we come out of this than we did before,” says Page, who leads the practice group’s remote work taskforce. “What that meant was having a very deliberate and structured effort intended to recreate the serendipity of running into each other at the coffee shop, either internally or with our friends on Capitol Hill. … Really thinking about how to actively check in with our colleagues, check in with our friends on Capitol Hill, check in with prospects, and do that on a regular basis.”

Women Supporting Women

In the early days of the pandemic, Kathryn Godburn Schubert faced the difficult task of starting a new job with greater responsibilities, having joined the Society for Women’s Health Research as president and CEO in April.

“It has pushed me to evaluate my values and what I need to prioritize,” says Schubert, who also previously served as president of Women in Government Relations. “Whether that’s through scheduling blocks of time that I’m not looking at my phone or I’m really focusing on my family. We’ve started these family game nights because I also see my kids struggling, and that’s really hard.”

While Schubert’s situation is unique, the challenges she faced around work-life balance are common for women in the industry, especially in a work-from-home environment. But the good news is there have never been more women and minorities working in the field and more organizations and groups that champion them.

“It used to be that diversity in lobbying was having Republicans and Democrats,” says Darrell Conner, government affairs counselor at K&L Gates. “Today, I think we’re reflecting the culture and environment in which we live and operate. It’s LGBTQ, it’s gender, it’s race, and it’s not just diversity for diversity’s sake. It’s diversity because policy makers are viewing things through those same lenses as our society.”

Are Organizations Doing Enough to Promote Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives?

This year, Bloomberg Government’s compensation survey included questions about how companies are addressing diversity and inclusion.

When women have a seat at the table, it leads to more candid, revealing conversations about a wide range of issues, including internal affairs, client needs, and company culture.

In the current political and global climate, organizations that connect and support women can assist in navigating how to hone skills that are most valuable to employers. Now more than ever, creating, building, and joining a strong coalition of like-minded women with similar experiences can mitigate the process of negotiating salary, sharing best practices, and getting endorsements.

[Download Bloomberg Government’s 2020 compensation report for a look at diversity trends and how women are compensated compared to their male counterparts.]

A lot of formal and informal mentoring is done by groups such as the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association, National Hispanic Lobbying Association, Washington Government Relations Group, Congressional Black Associates, Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, and others.

“There’s a great deal of value belonging to an association like ours because it connects people who have had a similar journey,” says Liz Lopez, president of the Hispanic Lobbyists Association. “Whether you’re starting out or in the middle of your career or an older professional, you can still benefit – it feels like a family.”

Bottom line: Many aspects of government affairs look different today than they ever have before, for better or worse. With the right motivation and support, the right changes will remain in place once work returns to normal – whenever and however that happens.

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