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Spotlight On: Lisa Mascone, deputy executive officer at NIA

NIA’s Lisa Mascone shares her story of finding balance and supporting the mission of NIA during the pandemic.

Remember the days when you could hear office banter or get stopped in the hallway to answer a quick question or schedule a meeting? For Lisa Mascone, those days feel long ago. Like many government workers, it has been nearly a year since she packed her things and began teleworking fulltime.

Mascone, deputy executive officer for the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has been with NIH for more than 30 years, with the last eight years at NIA. Mascone says NIA is a great place with a great mission.

“It is great to be part of an organization that focuses on delivery of scientific discovery to help the public,” Mascone said. “To be part of that mission to help others, especially those in diverse populations, solidifies that I am part of something special.”

When COVID-19 first hit it was like a vacuum, she added. One second people were working at their desks, and the next everyone was packing up their things and saying their farewells. No one knew for how long.

Finding a new balance

The novel coronavirus that causes what’s now known as COVID-19 first appeared in the United States in early 2020. COVID-19 is thought to mainly spread through close contact from person to person, which has led to physical distancing measures to curb the spread. For many people, that has meant turning their homes into offices.

With the transition to working from home has come a unique set of challenges, Mascone said, among them the need for an even greater focus on work-life balance.

“When you’re working 100% at home, remotely, things blur together,” she said. 

Stepping away from the computer and taking a break is essential, especially in a teleworking environment. Mascone takes a 30-minute break to exercise regularly. She either rides her bike or walks her dogs. Other times, she takes a break to just sit and enjoy the outdoors. Her advice to teleworkers is to set and follow parameters between work and personal time.

Lisa Mascone and her dog Sasha enjoying one of their walks
Lisa Mascone and her dog Sasha enjoying one of their walks.

Despite the challenges, there are positives to working from home, too, Mascone said. She has learned to be more paperless, and she appreciates the much shorter commute.

“It’s allowed me to feel like I get more accomplished because I’m not stuck in traffic two and a half hours on the road commuting daily,” Mascone said. I can focus better without the added distractions of people dropping by my office during the day. Interactions are now planned which allows me to better organize my workday. I am way more productive.”

Supporting communication and collaboration

Before COVID-19, a typical day for Mascone consisted of working with staff, participating in the weekly meetings like the NIH Executive Officer and Deputy Executive Officer meetings, NIA internal meetings and managing office space and resources. Now her tasks and duties are more COVID-19 driven, for example, facilitating virtual NIA Town Hall Meetings during which COVID-19 updates are shared with staff.

“It’s been a lot of additional work in supporting our staff and making sure we have transparency and good communication,” she said. For example, when Mascone and her team realized that NIA’s extramural divisions and offices were moving 100% online, they worked with NIA’s IT professionals to come up with a method for soliciting and adding digital signatures and an electronic routing system.

Teleconferencing and collaboration software, already in place before the pandemic, have been key to the transition to being mostly remote. If those systems had not been in place, Mascone believes it would have been impossible for so many to telework at top productivity levels and for the Institute to maintain its high level of function and quality work despite the pandemic.

Mascone also comments about how the work dynamics have changed due to COVID-19. The in-person exchange no longer happens naturally but instead is scheduled via calendar invites.

“We lost that casual, informal collaboration,” Mascone said. “Now, collaboration has to be really thought about and planned for it to get done.” She prioritizes collaboration with her staff and others to ensure the Institute is functioning as well as possible and advancing its mission.

Looking toward the future

When asked about what she has learned from her experience this past year, Mascone said it has taught her to value work relationships more.

“This has shown me how important it is to have a good network,” she said, “to know who to connect with to get things done.”

What if there is another pandemic? Mascone believes people are more prepared now. This past year has shown that if employees come together as a team, anything can be done. People have learned to look for the best solutions and to be resilient and adopt a new way of working.

“People have put a lot of effort into getting their jobs done,” Mascone said. “Our scientific and administrative staff have been tremendous. And I think this just shows when you come together collectively, as a group, anything is possible.”