The long corridors, closed-door offices and high cubicles that have always defined the culture of the federal workplace have given way to open spaces filled with industrial white desks that most employees must now reserve like hotel rooms.
Employees badge in at the lobby turnstile so their bosses know where they are. They touch down at desks they must leave without a trace of clutter if they want to avoid a scolding. “Teaming Rooms” are “leveraged” for meetings, and attendees are electronically logged in by a “room wizard” on the wall outside.
The inspiration behind the General Services Administration’s new floor plan and office decor is Administrator Daniel M. Tangherlini, who is urging his employees to work away from their desks while dismantling the bureaucratic approach back at the office. The push could help usher in a new federal culture in which working no longer means that your boss can see you.
It is part of a long debate over how employers can best deploy their workers in the digital era. This year, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer banned her employees from working at home because she said they were goofing off.
But Tangherlini is betting that his employees will get more done if they are at home — or anywhere outside the office, for that matter — more often. He wants them
to instant-message, Google-chat,
e-mail and Internet-call their way through the workday on laptops and smartphones. He is betting that when they do venture into the office, they will work together better and more creatively if closed doors and high cubicles don’t get in the way.
“Let’s say you don’t buy any of that,” Tangherlini
said. “We can show $24 million we saved in rent on six leases we don’t have anymore.”
As part of the restructuring, Tangherlini — tapped to lead the GSA last year after revelations of lavish spending by the agency at conferences — has renounced his own executive digs: a 1,600-square-foot spread with wood-paneled walls, silver-plated chandeliers, a working fireplace and a White House view any ambitious federal leader would covet.
He now camps out in an open area with his executive and support staff at a utilitarian, Ikea-style desk with no drawers and a blue recycling bin underneath. Photos of his daughters sit on top.
The GSA has been able to get rid of rented office space in the District and Northern Virginia it no longer needed after cutting the average amount of room required for each employee by more than half.
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.