Valuing Sharing and Security

At the intersection of the forces of technology and place is NASA’s need to architect and implement secure sharing in a data-first organization. The ability of organizations to leverage data to drive insights to action is the fuel of the future. And yet data access is often extremely limited due to underlying tensions between sharing and security, role-defined versus open data, and a decentralized operating model. As more work is conducted anywhere and anytime, protecting sensitive data and keeping systems secure is critical. At the same time, ensuring the ability to share information via dashboards, portals, and online reports, as well as offering self-service options, are just as vital.


As the Presidential Management Agenda observed, the use of data is transforming society, business, and the economy. As more work is conducted virtually, keeping sensitive data and systems secure, sharing information, and offering self-service options will be critical to ushering in a modern government. Technology modernization initiatives and data access are the backbone to improving accountability to taxpayers and achieving mission results.

Further, there is a well-known tension in government: the requirement for protection and security competes with the mandate for openness and accessibility. For the emerging generation of knowledge workers, this tension manifests itself when these workers are challenged to access the data needed to inform decision-making. As a consequence, relevant information is siloed in highly insulated systems that only few can access and usable self-service options for sharing data securely do not exist or are not ace universally available.


Striking a balance between data sharing and security remains an organizational strain and is particularly difficult for NASA. The Agency requires an integrated approach to using data to deliver on mission goals, serve customers, and steward resources. The tension between sharing and secure solutions, combined with increasing self-service demands, creates a unique challenge in government, where budgets and expertise are often more limited than in the private sector.


As NASA seeks to manage tensions and steer toward more self-service options, the Agency must design and implement an integrated workforce data management strategy that defines a common data architecture to allow for the secure integration and sharing of data, inclusive of “data-first” standards and practices. The strategy requires the development of shared standards and policies around basic issues like password strength, multi-factor authentication, social engineering, and network security to inform its workforce of cybersecurity risks. NASA may consider moving towards a risk-based approach for securing systems that places emphasis on data-level protections and that fully leverages modern virtualized technologies (President’s Report on Federal IT Modernization NASA, 2018). This approach requires a modern data architecture as well as an aligned management structure to balance risk and security.

Along with risk come the element of trust: erasing boundaries within and beyond the information technology sector means that cybersecurity risk must become the concern of everyone. A baseline level of training regarding effective IT security, data security, and systems management must not only be offered, but embraced by users at all levels.

As NASA prepares for the Future of Work, the Agency must intentionally design for increased self-service. A self-service approach provides previously unavailable direct access to data and platforms that employees can use to more efficiently deliver government services anywhere at any time. Online self-service capabilities will provide the workforce round-the-clock access to real-time information, reducing the time employees need to navigate siloed systems and refocusing time saved to pursue mission objectives.

About the Authors

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).


Why I Gave NASA A Second Chance?

I am a computer scientist studying artificial intelligence and robotics. As with many of my peers, NASA has always been my dream. It represented everything I loved about the future, and I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and exploring the stars. I was inspired by the daily APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day), the Mars rovers, Robonaut and Valkyrie, the legacy of interstellar probes… and the list goes on.

Beyond the technical nature of my work, I have deeply-rooted love for creativity and innovation.

When I received the call from an HR representative at NASA asking if I’d come work for them, I dropped everything. On the call, I was jumping cell towers on a family camping trip through national parks along the Colorado River. Accepting the job made absolutely no sense for me. I knew almost nothing about what I was getting myself into. It was two weeks before class started, I had just signed a year-long lease for a new apartment in Minneapolis, I was on the board of 3 student organizations with big responsibilities.

None of that mattered. It was NASA, and they wanted me.

Creativity and innovation are two characteristics that many (rightfully) might not immediately attribute to the federal government. However, I convinced myself that NASA would be different. The people that work here are the best of the best. They put a man on the moon. They’ve mastered the physics of keeping a delicate structure the size of a football field floating in air while traveling at 17,500 mph for 20+ years. NASA must be innovative.

When I arrived in Houston and finished orientation, I was absolutely entranced. I drove by T-38 astronaut trainers outside of Space City Houston, I took a right at a modified NASA 747 with Space Shuttle Independence mounted on top. I drove by Rocket Park, through an intimidating security gate, past Mission Control and into the parking lot outside a brand new, beautiful, LEED Platinum certified green building — Building 20. I was introduced to my team, and shown to my cubicle. I was ecstatic; I had my very own cubicle at NASA! Easily the best first day of my life.

Day in, and day out, I made my daily commute, brewed my morning coffee, had small talk with my neighbors, and worked diligently on my project, Artificial Intelligence in Requirement Tailoring with Safety and Mission Assurance. Slowly, the sparkles and novelty wore off and became commonplace. The hours and hours parsing through requirements in my 8×8 beige cubicle, one in a row of twenty, five layers deep, became painful. The work was novel and noteworthy, the mission was vital, but yet the physical space around me was so uninspiring. I couldn’t understand how people were expected to be innovative and cutting edge in a place like this.

I remember one specific moment when a few of us bought postcards from Starport and pinned them to our cubicle walls in an effort to bring color to the sea of beige. In that moment, I knew there had to be something better. It didn’t take long for me to learn about the 1958 Coworking Space.

I had first been drawn to the start-up culture after fulfilling my first paying website contract at 12 years old. From there, I would walk into conference rooms with my IBM Thinkpad and my squeaky voice and tell local businesses why they should trust a middle school student to make their website. I made apps for my teachers, online greeting cards for friends and family, and websites for my clients. I was a one man development team (with my wonderful mother helping with the business side). I had no bureaucracy, no overhead, nothing but a few lines of code and a few extra hours separating me and the finished product. I was a doer, then and now, and it has defined my expectations for every job I’ve had since. In my second floor, nth column, isle row, beige cubicle working in safety, I was not a doer. This was not the NASA I signed up for.

When you first walk into the 1958 Coworking Space, often shortened to just “1958”, you’re confronted with posters that scream `DOER!’ The space houses a maker room, colorful modern furniture, custom made wooden accent walls, a hyperwall “jumbotron” made up of 12 HD TVs, a sandbox with simulated water; the list goes on. These type of projects are a byproduct of the culture at 1958. If you inspired by something cool, you just make it. We’re not sitting around waiting — we’re doing.

1958 is made up of two buildings at Johnson Space Center. It promotes innovation and collaboration by providing a flexible work environment and fully featured conference rooms that can be used by anyone on center. This is one of the few spaces at JSC where professionals from every organization engage in a productive collision of ideas just by being here.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an over-the-top creative person, you are almost guaranteed to think of something innovative in a space like this. 1958 is a space with volume that visitors feel obligated to fill with ideas – just by being in such a different space, people are pushed to think differently. It’s a colorful space with recreational amenities designed to allow employees to take a break and relax, in turn making the mind susceptible to insight and innovation. Visitors to the space can stand up and roam around. You can visit the space every day for a months and still have new places to work. Just by existing in an environment like this, I feel more creative. Every day is engaging, and no day is routine.

I still get off the highway at the same T-38s, I still take a right at the space shuttle and drive by Rocket Park, through the same security gate, and past Mission Control. Only this time my road doesn’t end at a beige cubicle. My new building is still categorically and unquestionably NASA; we have a Gemini capsule out front and some rocket engines out back. But inside these walls is something new, something worthy of a second chance. It’s the innovative NASA I grew up expecting.

About the Authors

Alex Kafer | Alex is an intern with the 1958 coworking space at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. He studies Computer Science and Product Design at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Alex considers himself a problem solver, using his technical experience in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, paired with his love for creativity and design to come up with novel solutions to problems organizations face everyday.

Suzanna Yates | Neely is a Content Hacker Intern at NASA.  She studies International Political Economy and Computer Science at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont Colleges. Neely is passionate about making STEM a more inclusive field. She has interned for Congressmen and local officials to advocate for her ideas. Neely also loves coding and learning languages. Whether she is talking to a human or computer, she likes to learn how to communicate in new, creative ways.

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Technology Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).  

The Changing Office Space

Every individual is aware of the environment that best supports his or her work. This environment is constantly changing – transforming from a once traditional office workplace to an innovative, hybrid workplace embracing flexibility and a changing world. Some individuals find themselves working best in a coffee shop, listening to music while others perform best in the company of other people. Different people want different options; there are many different styles of working. In order to accommodate different working styles, encourage collaboration, incorporate new technology, and push the boundaries of science, the modern workplace is being redefined.

NASA’s official founding 60 years ago occurred during a time of incredible national industrial progress and the exploration of civil liberties. NASA’s facilities reflect a workplace focused on private industrial progress, however, and the technological secrecy of the space race. Accordingly, a structure of private office arrangements and strict work schedules developed around this culture, including an underlying layer of security – restricting the opportunity to share ideas that worked towards improving the future.

Many buildings at the centers, such as Johnson Space Center where we are based, still reflect these assumptions of previous decades. Built in the early 1960s, buildings share a common floor plan and common layout. Many employees work in tight cubicle arrangements, many supervisors work in their own private offices, and many departments only have a few conference rooms where employees can openly engage on projects. Most individuals commute to the Center from surrounding communities and work typical weekday business hours. This system has proven to be successful – several of NASA’s greatest accomplishments occurred early on in its career utilizing this workplace structure; human beings traveled to the moon and back. However, just because a system worked during one era doesn’t mean there isn’t a better option in a new era. This type of workplace lacks in innovation and restricts individuals from personalization and collaboration, putting them in a very small box before they even get to the innovation phase.  

Finding the way to best utilize and pursue individual’s talents will be NASA’s next “mission.” An innovative and adaptive workplace will foster all of NASA’s future ideas and endeavors. In order to compete for the best talent in the world, NASA needs to commit to and develop a workplace that serves all kinds of individuals, projects and teams.

A modern workplace encompasses several moving parts – the location and structure of the physical environment, availability of technology, the ability to balance work and personal life, and the freedom to express ideas and work with others. Additionally, a workplace needs to provide the tools and resources to develop seemingly impossible ideas.

The location and structure of the physical environment sets the other dominos in place. Employees don’t need excessive open floor plans with ping pong tables and espresso machines – rather, they need options. New floor plans can incorporate an open concept, but it also needs to include conference rooms, individual offices, and collaboration spaces. Workplaces like this appeal to different work styles, and will support individuals to work their best. Giving employees the freedom to choose how to work and reconfigure as needed eliminates previous restrictions.

Related to issues of location and structure are practices like teleworking and virtualization. Teleworking and virtualization go hand in hand; they allow employees to work from anywhere using modern technology. This is again different for different people. For some employees, teleworking may be a necessity – specifically those who travel frequently or collect data for research. For others, teleworking may be an occasional practice like setting up an office at home – likely preferred for those who have family needs. Teleworking gives employees a better opportunity to stay engaged in work life and personal life. It directly helps employees find a balance. Utilizing teleworking and virtualization are not ideal options for everyone, but giving employees options will allow each of them to make their best contributions.

From the collaboration standpoint, implementing workplaces that incorporate open concepts, conference rooms, individual offices, and collaboration spaces will help facilitate the spread of new ideas. Johnson Space Center specifically has started to incorporate these new approaches. There are several buildings, like Mission Control, that have been redesigned to include collaboration spaces for individuals to work on big projects or learn more about other teams’ projects, as well as buildings that have been completely repurposed to include any and all of the above workplace options. Additionally, these new spaces provide tools for people to fully develop their ideas; including presentation tools like Clickshare, prototyping tools like 3D printers, and relaxation tools like games and puzzles.

Individuals flock to these new spaces and compete to reserve rooms. They are quickly becoming a sanctuary to work on projects or complete individual assignments. If NASA can redesign current workplaces and construct new workplaces that embody a flexible and collaborative environment, then it will continue to draw attention to itself and mobilize individuals to dare mighty things… every day and every project.

About the Authors
Kathryn is an intern at NASA working in Center Operations Sustainability. Kathryn attends The Ohio State University and will graduate in 2021 with a degree in Environmental Engineering. Kathryn is passionate about exploring nature and making music. She is on the leadership council for OSU’s Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship Scholars group and is the Risk Manager on the OSU Club Dodgeball team.

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).

Embracing Modern Workspaces and Collaboration

At the intersection of people, place, and technology is NASA’s need to enable its people anytime, anywhere. The traditional boundaries of our workspaces are disappearing because of advances in technology. Work, especially “knowledge work”, can now be conducted anywhere at anytime by putting information, data, and tools at the fingertips of an increasingly mobile workforce. As the work and workforce evolve, the workplace must also adapt. Modern workspaces are being redesigned for greater flexibility and autonomy to enable teams to arrange themselves as needed to best work together, both collaboratively and individually.

As technological advances erode traditional boundaries, more work can be completed by teams empowered to discern when and where is best suited for the people involved and the needs of the project at hand. The modern workplace is evolving to meet new demands and is consequently being designed to allow for greater flexibility and autonomy. The office today is at the nexus of the social, technological, and physical worlds. Rethinking the way we manage workspaces, virtually and physically, is giving rise to modern workplaces and an entire industry that offers office-as-a-service to an increasingly mobile workforce.

As the migration toward a global and connected world continues, historical workplace models that offer cubicles and stationary space resonate less with an emerging workforce. Three distinct tiers of office models exist today: the physical presence where everyone shows up and work is conducted primarily on site; the virtual state, an asynchronous model where people choose to work anywhere and at convenient times; and a physical-virtual hybrid that balances physical presence with the virtual mobile world and convenient times (Design & Plan, n.d.). Renewing and modernizing the workplace in a way that recognizes these preferences is key to attracting, engaging, and enabling the 21st century workforce.

As the work and workforce continually evolve, the workplace must likewise transform to reflect the change or it becomes a barrier. The physical facilities of all organizations—including NASA—must be maintained, upgraded, and modernized, as should the tools and processes employed to facilitate collaboration across increasingly distributed workforces (GSA Employee Survey Reports, 2017).

NASA facilities reflect their roots in the industrial revolution, where a strict division of labor meant the need for proximity to accomplish work in office arrangements geared to maximize efficiency and mirror hierarchy. GSA government-wide surveys indicate that employees rate NASA facilities in the bottom 25 percent of all federal government buildings (GSA Employee Survey Reports, 2017). NASA is also pressed to reduce its total facilities footprint by 25 percent in 20 years as of this writing.

Further, new spaces and technologies are vital precursors to developing an open culture of collaboration. As NASA steers away from maintaining expensive and outdated infrastructures, it will need to consider the impact of technology on how and where people work. The Agency must readily embrace the way technology is improving organizational agility, increasing productivity, aiding in decision-making, and permitting teams to engage and grow beyond past boundaries. Modern collaboration technologies are key to enabling that virtual workplace. To realize the full value offered by new ways of working, the NASA workforce will require increased readiness to move towards embracing fully virtual or hybrid office models.

To begin addressing its aging facilities vulnerabilities and enable an increasingly mobile workforce, NASA may leverage the understanding of its current infrastructure to explore new options for operating space with industry and through shared ownership models. While NASA may continue operating facilities across the US, a combination of facilities’ attrition and alternative ownership approaches may be best suited for the Agency in seeking to accomplish footprint reduction goals and eliminate or reduce maintenance costs. For spaces that it does maintain, NASA may prioritize office space redesign efforts that put people at the center of their work–personal life experience.

Building on virtual approaches, NASA is poised to shift from desk-centric, knowledge-based tasking to more virtual work. Capitalizing on options such as telecommuting and virtualization will help NASA shift from traditional office schedules and cultures and further facilitate necessary facilities reductions. Modern workplaces and virtual work environments also present opportunities to combat concerns surrounding hiring and engaging talent. NASA hiring specialists and managers continually express difficulty in recruiting based on their locations (Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley struggles to compete with the pay and bonus options of Google, Yahoo, SpaceX, and Facebook). Rather than compete on compensation, the Agency is poised to compete on the complete package it could extend candidates (mission impact, flexibility, autonomy, and much more). As such, the Agency should embrace place as a key component of employee engagement by linking office modernization and redesign projects to maturing engagement programs reaching employees wherever they are.

Finally, NASA must provide essential virtual collaboration tools and help employees establish the collaboration competencies necessary to foster and enable an increasingly remote, agile workforce. Virtual work and collaboration requires new skills and methods for working; building on the learning of current telecommuting staff, NASA may mature current programs with virtual learning and team training to better equip a growing virtual workforce. Leveraging the flexibility such skills provide, the Agency will remain an attractive employer—and a best place to work—by encouraging work-life balance with alternative schedules and greater mobility that support employees across life stages and throughout their careers.

About the Authors

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).