Federal workspace won't look the same in the future

Private offices might become obsolete

The federal workspace of the future is going to look very different, according to Martha Johnson, administrator of the General Services Administration.

Speaking at 1105 Media’s FOSE conference July 21, Johnson explained that most federal employees aren’t spending their days tethered to a desk because of new technology.

“To sit at a desk is rarer thing these days,” Johnson said. “When you take down the walls [and] move to a space that is open, you can see how empty it is.”

The GSA is renovating its office building in Washington, D.C. with the workspace of the future in mind. Johnson said the office used to accommodate 2,000 employees but when the agency moves back in, the building will accommodate 6,000 employees.

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“We might be able to invite another agency to join us,” Johnson said.

The building will be able to hold more people because many employees will be taking advantage of telework and other telecommuting options. One option is hoteling, in which employees, equipped with mobile technology, do not have dedicated workspaces but instead reserve desks on an as-needed basis.

Johnson said the agency tracked the number of employees in its office during the week and found that the building was never occupied by more than 50 percent because employees are often off-site teleworking, or at trainings, personal appointments or with customers.

This information led Johnson to conclude that people, including herself, shouldn’t require private offices that take up a lot of space in a building. “If people need a private office, they should go to the most private office this government allows them – their home,” she said.

She said federal employees come to the office to be with other people and strengthen collaboration. Johnson, who used to occupy what she called the third biggest office in Washington, now sits at a cubicle with low walls.

Johnson also said GSA has been using its new Google cloud e-mail service for about four and a half weeks and is so far having a positive experience.

She said cloud e-mail makes the agency business savvy, improves security and makes things easier for GSA’s CIO.

Johnson said that thanks to Google Docs, she was able to create the agency’s performance planning guidelines in an hour with two employees who were at a different location.

The workspace improvements and the shift to Google cloud is helping the agency work towards its goal of a zero environmental footprint, Johnson said.

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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Reader comments

Thu, Jan 19, 2012

I'm just happy that I don't telecommute. This means that I get dedicated a workspace and I don't have to reserve a desk on an as-needed basis. I'm at home to be at "Home", and I go to work to perform my work related duties and responsibilities. I like keeping my "Home Life" and "Work Life" separate. Thanks! Signed, Grateful.

Mon, Jul 25, 2011 Ron

Realism oftens means to quit 'tree-hugging' and adopt to the new things.This includes cloud computing and not needing an office. I have not had an office in ten years and still have positive work flow. Having a work office away from home is not a deliverable to a customer.

Mon, Jul 25, 2011

Lets get real here! The ultimate products that all people need is something physical - meaning things like food, shelter, clothing, medical service, transportation, tools, and utilities (including your communication system you need to be able to telecommute) to name a few. These all require a physical presence to produce as well as to inspect to make sure you are getting them properly produced and/or delivered. You cannot do that by telecommuting. If all your organizations can do everything by teleworking then just what are they really providing that is useful to people?

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