The Future of Work

Over the past six decades, NASA has attracted relentless adventurers and brilliant explorers who have a passion to explore the unknown for the benefit of humanity. This workforce has achieved the impossible, from the unforgettable feats of the space race and Mars rovers, to building of the International Space Station and the development of new technology that has ushered unparalleled discoveries. As we contemplate the next 60 years, NASA recognizes that today’s environment is significantly different from its past decades of success. Join us in this series as we explore the disruptors driving the Future of Work and provide insights our Future of Work study.  Each week we will publish a new post from our study and invite your feedback.  You can view the past posts by clicking any of the links below or simply scrolling down:

Future of Work – An Introduction
The Four Meta Forces – Mission, People, Technology and Place
Environment and Culture
The Future of Work Framework
Designing for Agility, Focusing on Impact
Redesigning for the future: the age of impact
Redefining Talent
The Future of the No-Collar Workforce
Learning and Developing for a Lifetime
Changing Attitudes Toward Learning & Development
Developing Cross-Generational Talent
What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
Embracing Modern Workspaces and Collaboration
The Changing Office Space
Why I Gave NASA A Second Chance
Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability
Digital Transformation
Unleashing Algorithms, Analytics, AI and Automation
Conclusions for the Future of Work
A Marketplace for Talent

Digital Transformation

At the intersection of mission, technology, and place is NASA’s need to modernize for a digital-forward future. Digitalization, the process of moving toward digital business, is occurring everywhere and remains an ongoing process across the federal government. Digital transformation leads to more informed decisions, increased operational efficiency, and streamlined processes.


Today, we are witnessing the disruption of almost all processes, practices, and industries by digital technology. Digitalization, the process of moving toward digital business (we acknowledge that digitalization, digitization, and digital transformation are often used interchangeably) is occurring everywhere. Digitalization remains an ongoing process across the federal government; in the coming decade, digital transformation is likely to be the most important factor in reshaping government. Yet the government (and public policy) are far behind the rate of change.

Since NASA’s initial digital strategy was developed in 2015, the Agency has continued to work toward “changing the way we do business,” and has become more information-centric, customer-centric, and platform-driven while attempting to balance the pull of security and privacy concerns. Such changes continue to disrupt NASA, enabling new insights and new possibilities.


Digital transformation requires more than accessing the appropriate digital tools. A limited ability to adopt or train on new technology, siloed systems, and restrictive data policies stand in the way of NASA’s imperative ability to prepare for a digital-forward future. Organizations not readily embracing digital-first mindsets or “automate everything” mantras will no longer be compatible with the future, much less the work or workforce. Without taking steps toward digital business, NASA risks losing reductions, resources, and ultimately relevance: digital business reaps reductions realized through cost saving on appropriately managing/refreshing IT investments and automating across organizational processes and digitalization frames resources to more effectively utilize and allocate while eliminating waste. Digital transformation is a non-negotiable to remain relevant in attracting critical talent and keeping pace with competitors and partners setting modernization cadence.


Disruptions through technological breakthroughs and rapid adoption of new technology are requiring the government to respond or be left behind. Truly transforming NASA through digital technologies will be a journey, but one worth taking.

NASA must collectively assess its digital readiness posture; immediate actions may include  developing a more streamlined approach to evaluate, adopt and procure modern technology and activating a concentrated effort to improve the digital user experience for employees by providing a simple, clear user experience, starting with Human Capital services and platforms. To bring this opportunity to life, consider the dramatic change from filling out tax returns before the online, automated, user friendly TurboTax swept the nation. People even called completing their taxes fun! NASA could adopt the strategy that no new service or tool will be delivered to our managers and employees without this sort of TurboTax interface experience.

NASA must also consider the digital competencies of the workforce. Agency investments in the technology and tools necessary for digitalization are only as valuable as the employees able to access and innovate through their use. Any emerging Agency talent strategy must include the necessity for digital competencies—upskilling, procuring, and refreshing these essential talents to continuously propel the Agency forward.

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).


The Four Meta Forces – Mission, People, Technology and Place

The future of work is arguably one of the most explored topics in recent years and drives ongoing study, analysis, and contemplation by academics, practitioners and policymakers, and continues as a dominant narrative across fields broadly ranging from business to the arts. To develop our own Future of Work framework, NASA started with a detailed literature review to gather information on current and projected work trends. Next, the team pursued additional primary research to validate initial findings and listen directly to our workforce. We conducted 5 workshops, surveyed 100 employees, interviewed numerous leaders, and attended numerous conferences, seminars, and gatherings. The data collected from this process led to the observations and insights in the report.

During the literature review, we looked for recurring patterns and themes. We catalogued countless disruptors and drivers that revealed unprecedented change and new possibilities in the Future of Work. From this research, we identified four largely uncontrollable external factors that influence our organization. These factors, or meta forces, include mission, people, technology, and place. They act as lens to view the future of work at NASA.

Mission: Space as an industry is emerging with increasing and new competition. The influence of existing laws, complex regulations, policies and processes impact NASA’s ability to implement its mission. NASA’s mission is to drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality and stewardship of Earth. Our mission statement outlines our fundamental purpose as we partner with private companies and international entities to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.

People: An organization’s greatest asset is its people. Understanding the expectations, preferences, and behaviors of the diverse, multigenerational workforce will allow us to develop new talent strategies that go beyond today’s practices and leverage the many drivers reshaping the global talent landscape. Building NASA’s dynamic workforce of tomorrow requires that we value diversity, encourage new skill development, and understand changing expectations. NASA’s current workforce offers a snapshot of the evolving multi-generational makeup – just one critical factor we must consider as we rethink and reinvent human capital programs and services.

Technology: The most widely discussed driver of change for the future of work is technology. The evolution of technology is fast paced and alters the way we communicate information and coordinate in real time. Technology enables NASA to more effectively translate data into knowledge and improves the Agency’s ability to make real-time strategic decisions and increase operational efficiencies.

Place: Where we work, when we work and how we work is constantly changing. As we continue to migrate towards a global and connected workforce, we anticipate new opportunities to improve employee engagement and satisfaction through the use of our physical and virtual spaces. NASA is an early adopter of telework across the government and continues to explore new work arrangements.

These four forces have significant impact on NASA, it’s workforce and the future of work. Now that we have defined the four meta forces individually, our next will post will explore the intersection of these forces and the eight insights that come from them. Stay tuned for our next post!

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).

Jani Smith | Jani is an early career consultant from LMI who has been working with NASA’s OCHCO for a little over a year. Supporting the Future of Work initiative at NASA, she strives to bring policy, practicality, and creativity together in the working world.