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Agencies eliminating workstations, saving a bundle

Oct. 21, 2012 - 01:17PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Bart Bush, assistant commissioner for the Office of Client Solutions at GSA, gives a tour of renovated office space in January. The Obama administration has said that any new federal office space must be offset by telework or consolidation.
Bart Bush, assistant commissioner for the Office of Client Solutions at GSA, gives a tour of renovated office space in January. The Obama administration has said that any new federal office space must be offset by telework or consolidation. (Staff file photo)

When the Forest Service completes renovations of its Washington headquarters, it will have more employees but fewer workstations.

The 565 employees now in the building will share workstations with 200 additional employees who are moving in a year from leased space in Arlington, Va.

The new arrangement is possible because employees will telework more and not be at the same workstation at the same time, said Kathleen Atkinson, associate deputy chief for business operations at the Forest Service.

And the agency expects to save $5 million annually — by not renewing the Arlington lease and by shutting down the shuttle that runs between the buildings.

Agencies struggling with shrinking budgets and mandates to reduce real estate footprints are turning increasingly to workstation sharing, which could save the government hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to experts.

President Obama in a May memo said the Office of Management and Budget will approve new space only if it is offset by office consolidations or reductions.

Jim Reidy, director and the practice lead for the real estate and location strategy team at Deloitte Consulting, said the average federal workstation costs an agency $10,000 to $15,000 in real estate and support costs every year.

Agencies can save millions of dollars every year if they transition to fewer workstations by getting employee input and crafting policies that meet their needs.

Agencies “know the budget ax is going to fall, and they want to make sure they can keep performing their mission,” Reidy said.

Under workstation sharing, two to three employees share a specific workstation. The concept is similar to hoteling, where an employee can reserve a workstation, but not necessarily the same one, on days he needs to be in the office. Workstation sharing and similar cost-saving strategies are possible thanks to modern technology, said Bob Hunt, managing director at real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle, which provides leasing and consulting services to the federal government.

Digital phone systems that follow employees, laptops that can connect to work from anywhere and an increasingly wireless workplace make the individual cubicle less valuable.

“It’s not about having 15 standards of cubicle and office sizes that mirror your paygrades on up to the top,” Hunt said.

On Oct. 1, the Internal Revenue Service signed an agreement with the National Treasury Employees Union under which telework-eligible employees can be asked to voluntarily share workstations. The agreement is part of an agencywide plan to increase telework and reduce real estate costs. As the IRS plans to relocate, repurpose or otherwise change an office, it can use the agreement to reduce overall space needs.

Employees who have been working out of their offices for more than 80 hours a month for four of the last six months can be asked to share a workstation, according to NTEU President Colleen Kelley. Shared workstations must be at least 6 feet by 8 feet, and sharing arrangements must be part of a consolidation or renovation effort. The union must approve the agreements.

The IRS could save more than $111 million in real estate costs over the next five years by increasing its use of workstation sharing, according to a Sept. 24 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The IG estimated that if all eligible IRS employees teleworked part time, the agency could eliminate 10,244 workstations and 1 million square feet of office space.

“Because the IRS has been unable to effectively capitalize on the space-related cost savings available from workstation sharing by employees who telework, it continues to incur rental costs for more workstations than required,” IG Russell George said in a statement.

The IRS would not comment on the new program or on its plans for workstation sharing.

One IRS employee who asked not to be identified said he works from home three or four days a week and would not mind sharing his office workstation.

“It’s just three fabric-covered walls,” he said.

With fewer individual cubicles for employees whose work can be done at home or in the field, agencies also are moving to more collaborative workspaces and meeting spaces that emphasize teamwork, Reidy said.

The Forest Service in its renovation is planning for more collaborative work, with lower cubicle walls and more meeting space, Atkinson said.

Other initiatives:

• The General Services Administration is employing workstation sharing and increased telework as part of an overall effort to make the federal workforce more flexible, according to spokesman Dan Cruz.

The agency is planning to reconfigure its space in the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago to accommodate workstation sharing and more telework and reduce the office by 28,700 square feet — saving the agency $920,000 a year in rent and incurring no construction costs. GSA will then rent the empty space to another agency.

Greater flexibility “gives employees more choices where and how they work, which is popular,” Cruz said.

Bart Bush, the assistant commissioner for the Office of Client Solutions at GSA, is also working to reshape offices at GSA and throughout government.

Bush and about 170 employees at GSA’s renovated 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. Nobody will own a desk but will reserve hoteling space. Employees will also have access to more common areas to promote collaboration.

When renovations are complete in 2013, GSA headquarters will hold 4,400 employees in space previously occupied by 2,500 employees, saving millions of dollars in lease costs, according to the agency.

• The Patent and Trademark Office has saved nearly $20 million in avoided real estate costs since its telework program began in 1996, said telework coordinator Danette Campbell.

Eighty-three percent of eligible employees telework — with most choosing to telework four days a week or full time. Employees who telework full time are required to give up their office space, and that has saved the agency money as it has grown over the last 20 years, Campbell said.

Employees can use hoteling stations as needed, and the agency tracks how many people are using these stations as part of an overall effort to use space efficiently.

Agencies continue to come to the PTO to learn more about its telework program, Campbell said.

She said the agency is constantly reviewing its telework and cost-savings performance to find areas of improvement.

“We are continually learning and making our program better as we move through the process,” Campbell said.

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