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No desk, no nameplate, half the workspace: Feds adjust to ‘hoteling'

Jan. 21, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Bart Bush, assistant commissioner for the Office of Client Solutions at the General Services Administration, gives a tour of renovated office space Jan. 12 in Washington.
Bart Bush, assistant commissioner for the Office of Client Solutions at the General Services Administration, gives a tour of renovated office space Jan. 12 in Washington. (James J. Lee / Staff)

Bart Bush traded in his 225-square-foot office for a workstation less than a third its size, his shelves for a personal locker and a door for no walls at all.

Bush, the assistant commissioner for the Office of Client Solutions at the General Services Administration, is helping to lead a growing effort to reshape the traditional office space and save money in an age of shrinking budgets.

Federal agencies looking to cut spending are turning increasingly to reducing their real estate footprint potentially saving millions of dollars in leasing, maintenance and energy costs.

Bush and about 170 employees at GSA's headquarters in Washington will see their square footage cut by half, from 29,120 to 14,065 a bit more than 82 square feet per employee.

The move is expected to save GSA $600,000 a year in reduced leasing costs. The agency will bring in GSA employees now working at another leased office space to use the extra space.

In the new office, nobody will own a desk, Bush said. Each day, employees will reserve a workstation, a concept called "hoteling."

Employees will also have more access to common areas to promote collaboration, Bush said.

But workers will still have a permanent phone number. Their calls will be routed to the workstation they reserved that day using a digital phone system which means employees can answer calls from their computers or forward them to their cellphones or another workstation.

If a worker needs to find a colleague, he can look up his location on the check-in system used to reserve workstations.

The trend will be away from a nameplate mounted to a door and toward shared spaces and greater emphasis on mobile technology, he said.

"Legacy office space just doesn't support that," Bush said. "That's the kind of space federal employees really need today."

Each office has a different plan for its workforce, he said, and no one plans to continue the use of high-walled cubicle environments because they inhibit cooperation and information sharing among employees.

"Some agencies might promote more telework, or create more open spaces or rely more heavily on technology," Bush said.

Bush's office follows in the footsteps of GSA's prototype office at its Washington headquarters, which fits 87 employees in a space originally meant for 43 people.

GSA lowered or removed partitions between desks and created a series of new workstations, including:

About 46 workstations measuring 6 feet by 3 feet that employees reserve in advance for the day.

18 "touchdown" workstations measuring 4 feet by 3 feet for employees who don't plan to spend more than a few hours at the office.

Nine workstations in a "quiet room" for employees working individually to meet tight deadlines.

Employees are also given storage space for personal items when not using a desk.

Deborah Ransom, program analyst at GSA's Federal Acquisition Service and the regional vice president for the National Federation of Federal Employees GSA Council Local 1642, said she has toured the new offices and likes the open floor plan, which encourages more communication.

"I think it's more geared to collaboration and for people to really work more in teams than as individuals," she said.

She said the new workspaces work with a new GSA telework policy that will allow her to work more often from home making the need for a permanent workstation unnecessary.

Ransom also likes the open eating and lounge area, an alternative to eating at a desk or in a more formal cafeteria.

She expects to move into one of the new offices in about two years.

John Carr, federal real estate location strategies consultant at Deloitte, said budget cuts are putting more pressure on agencies to reduce costs by focusing on their real estate.

"You have a glut of old office space that is poorly designed for flow, communication and conversation," Carr said.

He sees the federal workforce changing and becoming more open to giving up a permanent cubicle or desk in exchange for more freedom and increased productivity.

"You don't have to feel like you are losing anything. Most people do it because they love the job," Carr said.

Other federal agencies downsizing their space include:

The Treasury Department. An office in Washington grew from 58 people in 2009 to 92, but the agency cut the average space per employee by more than a third, from 201 square feet to 127. Treasury estimates it will avoid $383,000 in extra rent.

The Department of Homeland Security. DHS established an aggressive telework program in the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer and required that employees share cubicles, reducing space per employee by half.

GSA. The agency's Denver regional headquarters office reduced space per employee by 48 percent, fitting 122 smaller workstations into the same space as 77.

William Dougan, the national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents 3,600 GSA employees, said employees and management need to ensure there are sufficient resources for each employee to accomplish the agency mission.

"That aside, ‘tightsizing' is a practical approach to saving taxpayer dollars and ensuring that those funds are available to keep highly skilled federal workers on the job," Dougan said.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. TIGTA closed offices in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia while shrinking its headquarters in Washington from 63,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet.

The agency is saving about $900,000 annually from its reduced real estate footprint.

Alan Duncan, the executive in charge of the audit division at TIGTA, said the agency has developed a culture around mobile work that makes a physical office less important.

Employees across the agency communicate using webcams and meeting software and store information on a secure server making the need for a brick-and-mortar office less important, he said.

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