Striking A New Balance with Hybrid Work

As we near the two-year anniversary of remote work, what have we learned, both as individuals and as a company?

DRT has always, with client approval, been generous in allowing work from home. And telework is the typical mode for Atlanta-based DRTers, given a dearth of space at the CDC.  But with some government agencies planning hybrid work for 2022, we asked employees to name the pitfalls and perks of remote work, as well as in-person aspects they’ve missed. Here goes:

Lana Bian, Manager, FDA:  I generally work more hours now than I did before the pandemic because I no longer spend two to three hours on my daily beltway commute. But as a people person and a manager, I really miss the in-person connection with DRTers and our customers. I look forward to being able to just stop by our clients’ offices or run into them in the hallway and have a quick chat.
Leon Nguyen, Associate II, FDA:  I’m looking forward to going to an actual workplace. I really miss the human interaction. In our recent project, I think it would have sped up the process of requirement gathering had we met with our clients in person.
Chris Kalinowski, HR Associate II, Corporate: How do you onboard employees and introduce them to DRT’s company culture when they have never met us or their teammates? We have had to reimagine those HR approaches. I also really miss being the first person new DRTers meet in person, outside of the interview process.
Floria Volynskaya, Manager, FDA: I started at DRT during the remote work period, so I am most looking forward to meeting my colleagues face to face!
Jeff Harley, Expert Consultant, DHS: The recent grads we hired are very accustomed to remote work, but we haven’t fully been able to expose them to the collaboration for which DRT is known. The personal touch is missing in virtual meetings as people don’t turn their cameras on, and we don’t have the fun, social outings that help us feel connected to one another.
Wayne Fong, Managing Director, FDA: For me, the downsides outweigh the benefits. Among the top reasons employees stay at a company, is the strong, positive, and trusting relationships they build with their direct supervisors . . . COVID has taught us that we can be nearly 100% effective in doing our jobs, but what working 100% remotely has underscored for me, is that face-to-face, human interaction enhances camaraderie and teamwork in a way that a Teams Video call can never replace.
Walter Dennard, Senior Manager, CDC: I believe remote work brands us as forward-thinking; we can recruit nationally not just locally; and it has increased employee satisfaction. But it also decreases opportunities to network in business development, and we lose the personal interaction, lunches with colleagues and the like.

DRTers Pitted Against One Another in Epic Fun

Tyler Nicklyn, we salute you! Because YOU had the idea to hold a virtual “Chopped style” contest that became the  inspiration for DRTers across four FDA portfolios. Each employee was sent four specialty ingredients and challenged to prepare a dish in 30 minutes. Some went beyond the call, making three courses!

Not to be outdone, DRT Life sponsored a Most Festive contest, featuring an all-company vote for their favorite merry making employee. See some winners below!

Cooking contest online
Amateur chefs in the red portfolio (starting upper left to right) included contest maven Tyler Nicklyn and contestants Christina Jendzejec, Jenny Paine, Adriana Tucker, Wayne Fong, Ashley Westbrook, Jamie Evans, Caprelle Curry (bottom right is Caprelle’s 2nd camera to show cooking technique — just wow on the level of intensity!)
Woman in snow man costume
Wallita Busbee got us ready for the white stuff with a chill snow woman entry, taking 2nd place in DRT Life’s Most Festive contest.
Dressing up like santa on reindeer
Natasha Aquino took home the top prize, right after she emerged from a chimney holding onto her reindeer’s ears for dear life.

Bring DRT-Born Innovations to Bear on 2022

Until recently, the country’s foremost authorities on food-borne outbreaks used screenshots of heat maps to convey the latest data in reports, presentations, and emails. This was a tedious, manual process— and it wasn’t clear to viewers how recently these visualizations had been updated.

Fortunately, in 2020, DRT introduced robotic process automation (RPA) to its customer, the Coordinated Outbreak and Response (CORE) team, who adopted the software technology to continuously fetch and reflect updated data. Subsequently, the data is translated into Tableau and stored within CORE’s internal application, where heat maps are updated every 30 minutes during the workweek and can be easily downloaded in the user’s desired dimensions.

This is the kind of initiative DRTers will be encouraged to take with current client work and proposals in 2022. “We now need to integrate the great things we have built — our Value Management Solutions, DRT Confidence, and Idea Lab innovations — and start using them ourselves,” says CEO Susan Kidd.

At the FDA, Kidd says, “We know their mission, we have been there more than 11 years. So, we quickly identified three use cases with which we knew we could provide value with RPA.” Associate II Ruben Torrico adds, “The senior leaders already knew and liked this technology, so they were quick to deploy the first use case we demonstrated. Now we want to use RPA to help them with data migration—to download attachments and milestone emails from their legacy system that they will then use and associate with new outbreaks.”

After hearing an Idea Lab presentation, Expert Consultant Jeff Harley began considering the laborious and redundant aspects of FEMA’s work that automation might transform. For the first time in 50 years, FEMA is introducing pricing changes to National Flood insurance that will eventually impact 5.5 million policy holders. “Within this mission, we identified a perfect candidate — a manual redundancy that took up to 6 and a half hours of client time,” Harley says. “We are now building the use case to help a small team of actuaries quickly visualize and communicate the data, given the enormous influx of calls they are now handling.”

Harley admits, “I didn’t have much experience with robotics. But I knew my customers, and it was cool how the Idea Lab pulled in UI path experts and worked with us to build a solution.”

Ultimately, knowing the customer and their missions will drive this next step, as DRTers apply the company’s tech, security, and value-analysis tools. In this way, 2022 will be the year to show customers and prospects everything that DRT can do, marrying DRT’s intimate grasp of client missions to its in-house collaboration and cutting-edge solutions.

Team at lunch
Jeff Harley, front, together with DRTers Abhi Thapa and Rangena Hotaki hope to apply robotics to some of FEMA’s challenges.
Building true team spirit at True Food Kitchen, the FDA CDER OCS Team dined together, including (left to right) Wayne Fong, Marsha Salehi, our subcontract from KES Erica Sarvis, Abu Bhuiyan, Valerie Rovine, and Scott Hopkins. Missing was team lead Floria Volynskaya.
FDA CDER OND Medical Editing Team took in Pacci’s Trattoria in Silver Spring, MD. Left to right, they included: Monika Deschpande, Wayne Fong, Abu Bhuiyan, Stephen Page, Erica Boehm, Pamela Hsieh, Jessie Rothwell, Kate Bradley, Megan Peach, and Lana Bian.

CEO Message

Dear DRTers,

With a new year will come a new corporate office! In August, DRT will move its headquarters to Rosslyn’s Potomac Tower office building with a beautiful view of Georgetown and the Potomac. It is close to the Key Bridge, for quick jaunts into Georgetown.

Looking forward to the amazing resolutions we will drive together in this new space and in this new year,


Bat building designed by IM Pei
Known as the “bat building” because of its distinctive shape and layout, Potomac Tower was designed by I.M. Pei. It will be DRT’s new home come August.

Employee Spotlight: Leon Nguyen

The DiRT talked to Associate II Leon Nguyen as he was headed off for the holidays. Two and a half years into his tenure at DRT, we asked him about his work contributing to the FDA’s new Agricultural Water Plan Builder.

Q. So you provide project management and business analysis for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). Tell us what’s significant about this new tool.

A. This new online assessment tool we helped develop is public facing; farmers and ranchers across the United States will use it. The biggest ace for DRT was being able to work closely with the SMEs throughout the year to fine tune the requirements.  We succeeded by always being able to adapt to sudden changes, even those in a project with an aggressive deadline.

Q. If you were recruiting yourself to join DRT, what would you say?

A. There are wonderful people at DRT and if you are a sponge, you can soak up and learn so much. Everyone here has so much to teach you. A midsize firm is a great choice—with a variety of projects and very talented people.

Q. Most anticipated part of the holidays this year?

A. I’m really looking forward to gift giving. Now that I have my own job and income now, I can buy gifts for my family. My aunt loves to get household items as gifts, and I got her one of those stainless-steel trash cans, which will be an upgrade I know she will love. As I get older and set up my own place, these things mean more to me, too.

Q. Any favorite foods coming your way at home with family?

A. We will have a big Vietnamese potluck. My grandmother is a great cook and I’ll have a chance to show her I have retained some of what she has taught me. I always help them roll the egg rolls, too.

Q. So, what’s the secret to making a good egg roll?

A. Honestly the biggest thing is not to overstuff.

Pictured here in Boston harbor, Leon Nguyen shares that his 2022 goal is to be more active, reduce stress, and separate work from home life.

Important DRT Dates


All Month: Donate to DRT Cares’ Perfect Match: Scholarship America which helps students fulfill their college dreams, sponsored by Frank Nazare.  Email DRT Cares: Perfect Match to get your donation matched.

All Month: DRT Life sponsors Step Challenge, Details TBA

Monday, January 17, DRT Holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Friday, January 28, DRT New Employee Orientation, DRT Headquarters (Tentative)


All Month: DRT Cares Sponsors the Superbowl Raffle with proceeds benefiting the Youth Leadership Foundation.

DRT Life sponsors Scattegories, Date and details TBA

Monday, February 21, DRT Holiday, Presidents’ Day

Friday, February 25, DRT New Employee Orientation, DRT Headquarters (Tentative)