The future of federal work just got an update.

On Jan. 25, the General Services Administration unveiled its new Workplace Innovation Lab, a 25,000-square-foot co-working space that resembles shared, temporary use offices leased by companies like WeWork.

The lab is divided into six distinctly outfitted suites with cubbies, conferences rooms, cushy seating and colorful mottos lining the hallway to encourage collaboration, whether it’s one person or a whole team.

Located at GSA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., it’s a pilot project for agencies to test out trends in workplace furnishings and technology that reflect a hybrid workforce. Any federal employee can reserve the space through a digital platform called PlaceOS.

“Federal agencies and their teams are coming to kick the tires on new furniture and tech that meets the growing need for more flexibility and intentional collaboration in workspaces,” tweeted GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan on Thursday during the space’s grand opening.

Flexible space has been growing at an average yearly rate of 23% since 2010, according to a report by commercial real estate servicer JLL. The pandemic led agencies to reconsider their real estate needs, especially as much of the workforce began teleworking — and still is.

The latest government-wide employee survey indicated that only about one in three government workers were fully back in the office as of October. The same survey showed 25% reported teleworking three or more days a week. Many agencies are currently operating in a hybrid environment and deciding telework agreements on a case-by-case basis, though Republicans who recently took control in the House of Representatives have said they want to bring employees back.

In 2021, the District of Columbia had the highest percentage of remote workers in the country, according to Census data.

The lab lets employees try out gadgets and furnishings from multiple participating vendors, including Allsteel, Cisco, Haworth, Price Modern, Miller-Knoll, Kimball International, Swiftspace and VOE.

The lab, located on the second floor of the GSA building, is also protected by an access control system and on-site security personnel. There is no cost to use the lab and no agreement needed during the calendar year 2023 pilot, according to GSA.

GSA, the largest real estate holder in the country, also embedded sustainability in the space with power-over-ethernet cabling to eliminates expensive steel cabling and solar-powered light fixtures to support goals for net-zero carbon facilities.

The space is part of GSA’s Workplace 2030, a long-term plan to identify and implement real estate strategies and new or reimagined services that will adapt to the various ways in which federal agencies work these days. Distributed work, shared space and customization are its tentpoles.

“Real estate will help us maintain and enhance human connections, but technology will be the primary force that brings work together,” the plan says. “During the pandemic, agencies discovered the positive impacts of telework. Employees will want to continue working wherever it best suits the task at hand.”

Agencies had a direct hand in shaping priorities. Federal employees in Denver, San Francisco and the District of Columbia previously participated in a commercial co-working trial week to get familiar with the concept.

Participants favored the ability to work alongside other agencies, an energizing and motivational environment, modern feeling space and choices when it comes to location and availability.

They disliked a lack of monitors, noisiness, security concerns for government equipment, lack of inconvenient or costly parking, and commutes that were similar in length to their usual routine.

Editor’s note: If you test drive the new space and have feedback or thoughts to share, Federal Times would like to hear from you. Email to get in touch.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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