Governments are well known for being late adopters of popular trends. As entrenched bureaucracies with thick layers of rules, they must proceed with caution in making changes. This is no different in the office space planning arena than it is elsewhere. The upside is that, once a government agency finds an approach that works, they can proliferate it throughout many organizations to achieve efficiency on a massive scale. This is likely to happen in the space planning sphere soon.
Right now, federal and state governments seem to be in the midst of an ongoing experimental phase. They are juggling factors such as space availability, energy and maintenance costs, and security concerns while evaluating new choices such as mobile and alternative work environments. Federal agencies, in particular have a strict set of mandates to follow in determining how to design and utilize workspaces:
- Preserving the value of the real estate
- Meeting the needs of employees
- Promoting maximum utilization of the space
- Improving the productivity of workers to meet mission requirements
Hoteling and desk sharing are some of the techniques on the table as they seek to modernize the office while achieving all the objectives above.
Using Fewer Workstations in Government Spaces
The practice of reducing the number of available workstations below the number of employees is one way to capture real estate savings. Since not all workers are at their desks 100% of the time, it makes sense to provision only as many workstations as are really needed. Workers can reserve the type of workstation they need in advance or simply choose an available space when they arrive at the office. These practices and similar variations are called hoteling and desk sharing.
According to the Workspace Utilization Benchmark publication from 2012, “Alternative work environments including telework, hoteling stations, and desk sharing, are a major trend in today’s real estate marketplace, and offer organizations flexibility and optimal workspace usage. Additionally, organizations have noted an increase of quantitative benefits with the use of alternative work environments such as increased productivity and enhanced associate morale.”
Giving Hot Desking a Second Chance
The paper goes on to note that, while hoteling and desk sharing were tried in the 1990’s, the result was abject failure. The technology available at the time simply made it too difficult to stay productive in a constantly shifting office environment. Trying to force hoteling didn’t work. However, this way of working has begun to arise spontaneously today in response to mobile technology and a more collaborative work style. Still, hoteling and desk sharing are much less common in public sector workspaces compared to the private sector (16% vs. 48%).
According to an article by Lisa Rein in the Washington Post, it simply takes time to make the switch. The GSA itself is a good example: “With 3,300 headquarters employees, the GSA represents just a small fraction of the federal workforce. Even so, it took a full year to train everyone to electronically reserve desks and meeting rooms and give up the paper that still dominates most government work.” With the GSA leading the way, other agencies are sure to follow. Getting employees on board with a more flexible federal workspace is just a matter of time.
Stay tuned next week for more about mobile work in the Government workspace.