Federal offices remain closed or short-staffed for the shutdown, but eventually copiers will hum and coffee will perk again. While imagining that future, it’s also possible to wonder how the federal workplace will look in the months and years to come. According to a video released in September from the General Services Administration (GSA), “Where some see a federal office space, GSA sees an opportunity to save money.” The brief film introduces other agencies to Total Workplace, a GSA initiative providing resources and expertise to help transform outdated federal offices into more efficient, sustainable and collaborative modern spaces. Launched on September 18, GSA’s ambitious program is designed to facilitate other agencies’ efforts to cut costs, increase productivity and reach federal energy efficiency goals.
Leading by example, the GSA has been implementing ideas from Total Workplace while renovating its century-old headquarters on F Street in NW, D.C. Desk sharing, multi-use spaces and teleworking have doubled the number of occupants per workstation (from 2 to 4), enabling GSA to pack over 3,400 workers into space formerly occupied by 2,200. Employees without lack assigned workstations can stow family photos and other personal effects in private lockers. GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini does rate his own desk but shares a bullpen of cubicles with other top executives, surrounded by glass quiet rooms for phone calls and meetings. Such space efficiencies have allowed the agency to consolidate, moving out of three buildings and eliminating $24.4 million in annual lease payments. Tangherlini praises Total Workplace for its potential to save money and freeze the federal footprint, saying in a press release, “We are replacing buildings built around hierarchies from an era where people used the telegraph with workspaces more suited to today’s world.”
The open floorplan created by Total Workplace, according to Tangherlini, “encourages collaboration and cooperation that in turn leads to better services for the American people.” Critics of open offices, however, caution that limited privacy and assorted distractions reduce productivity. Their view is reinforced by a 2013 Gensler survey showing that, as worker density has increased nationwide since 2008, time spent collaborating has decreased 20%, and overall workplace effectiveness has declined. The GSA, guided by Gensler experts, is striving to avoid such problems through balancing worker access to spaces promoting focus as well as collaboration. At headquarters, worker choice is maximized by offering spaces appropriate to every type of task. An electronic “room wizard” facilitates space reservations for impromptu gatherings, and hand-held devices, cloud computing and other technologies enable receiving and sharing of documents and ideas inside and outside of the building. Enhancing worker access to technology will be fundamental to Total Workplace implementation, but Tangherlini emphasizes that the approach at different agencies will not be “one-size-fits-all.” Four agencies have already signed up for the campaign, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The GSA administrator has said that if Total Workplace can help DHS reduce worker space without imperiling privacy, other agencies should be able to figure it out.
Every federal agency is also expected to meet Obama Administration goals for cutting energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. The Total Workplace website touts why participation supports sustainability:
- Cutting 1 square foot of office space can save 30 pounds of CO2 emissions per year;
- Teleworking from home 1 day per week can save 1 ton of CO2 emissions per year; and
- Lighting and air quality conditions are perceived to enhance the ability to work by 74% and 61%, respectively.
Total Workplace resources for achieving desired results include a greenhouse gas emissions calculator to quantify project savings per capita and per square foot, and a sustainable facilities tool that helps prioritize green-building strategies for remodeling projects and invites users to ask questions and share experiences.
Along with Homeland Security, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have already joined the Total Workplace program. According to the GSA, reduced rental space with subleasing has begun to cut DHS real estate costs by $55 million. HHS is also improving space efficiencies to shrink its footprint and save $15 million over a ten-year lease. FWS will trim 72,200 square feet and reduce real estate costs $3 million annually when it moves from three current buildings to a new headquarters next summer. A shrinking footprint will be most dramatic for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which is consolidating from 43 state offices to 12 regional locations, saving more than $700,000 per year in real estate costs. The lure of savings and, frankly, the restrictions imposed by the federal “Freeze the Footprint” policy are expected to draw other agencies to the GSA’s Total Workplace program.