Friday brings to a close Telework Week 2012, a celebration of the environmental and work-life benefits to federal employees who work from home.
Although the Obama adminstration is pushing federal agencies to encourage telework, working out of the office remains a big culture shift that agencies have adopted unevenly.
The General Services Administration, the agency in charge of all federal real estate and some government procurement, is in the middle of a $162 million renovation of its Washington headquarters that is reconfiguring how employees work — without offices or permanent workspaces.
The Washington Post sat down with GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and Robert Peck, commissioner of the agency’s Public Buildings Service, on Thursday to discuss the renovation and what it means for telework.
You’re gutting about half of the headquarters building now, and the rest when you get more funding. What’s going to be different?
Johnson : GSA is repositioning itself and we’re making a lot of hoopla out of it. We’re showing government agencies a new way of working. When President Obama signed the telework bill [in 2010] he was urging us to be in a more mobile universe.
If I’m working from home, why is the government creating new offices for me?
Johnson : We’re actually creating less office space for each person, so we can allow more people to report to work here when they need to. Everyone works out in the open.
It’s collaborative, innovative, open and technologically capable. In a way, we’re catching up to the 1990s in the business world. We want to model this for the rest of the government. We’ve completed a test lab on the seventh floor.
Peck : Except we don’t have the ping-pong tables. But what we’re building is not all that different from what Silicon Valley was doing 15 years ago. We’re blowing out the walls of a 1917 building as much as we can. The building had essentially never been renovated. We reconfigured the space. This is no longer cubicle land.
Johnson: It will be shared space. You might sit at a desk for a day, or hold a meeting. But we won’t have personal offices anymore.
You guys are giving up your offices?
Peck : We’re moving seven people into my office. It’s very imposing in there.
Johnson : Same for me. Big offices have always been perceived as a perk. We’re blowing that up. I work out in the open now.. . . You want to call your ob-gyn? You can go to a quiet space and do it. But privacy is not personal space.
So how does this shift save the government money?
Johnson : The expense of occupying real estate is huge. We have agencies coming to us saying, ‘I either spend money on my mission or I spend it on real estate.’ They’d rather choose the mission.
Peck : It turns out that just two-thirds of white-collar workers are actually at the office every day.
Johnson : If Michelle Obama comes through, we might get 65 percent.
Peck : You’re wasting all that space. We had 2,600 employees working out of headquarters before the renovation. When we reopen in a year, we’ll have 4,500 and be able to move out of our space in Crystal City, not to mention our temporary space in NoMa [North of Massachusetts Avenue].
How many GSA employees telework now?
Johnson : Last year it was 3,200. This year it’s 6,400. We have 12,000 employees across the country.
So everyone has a laptop?
Johnson: Yes, and more. A lot of this is happening because of social networking technology. We’re in the cloud now. We’re more synergistic. People can chat, they can hold meetings through video-conferences. And when they come into the office, they talk to each other more. They exchange ideas.