21st Century office concepts

At my workplace, the powers that be (GSA and the Department) continue to push the Agency to reduce our physical footprint.  In the next couple of years, the Powers want us to reduce space by 25%.  With almost 2200 locations, it is daunting, especially since the Appropriators continue to include language prohibiting office closures.  And the Powers push the open office concept and telework as the ANSWERS.  Other agencies like GSA and the Forest Service adopted the OOC (open office concept), or hoteling and supposedly it works great!!  Until you start talking to the employees (Not managers) who have to live it.  Telework is a little different, employees continue to love it however managers have to manage employees’ conduct and output for it to work for the organization.  The Patent and Trademark Office’s lack of management over telework has guaranteed them an appearance in at least Congressional hearing.  WashPo article on PTO Telework investigation  PTO was an early adopter of telework and GSA was the first to push hoteling with even their Administrator, Dan Tangherlini, sitting in an open office every day.

So recently I have noticed more articles on OOC and whether or not it really works. This GovExec article on OOC appeared last week.  This Forbes opinion post on OOC is from December.  Does this reflect a trend to curtail OOC?  I can think of more reasons to re-examine OOC then to take the plunge.

When I first started working in 1981, most offices were open.  As a junior level professional, my desk sat in an open bull pen with rows of desks.  I had a phone and a 10 key – no computers or word processing equipment at that point.  I was not near a window as those desks were for more senior staff.  We were not supposed to make personal calls on the work phone.  Seems like we have come full circle in 30+ years, and I remember that wasn’t a great environment.  Absolutely no privacy, maybe more productivity because all you could do under all the scrutiny was work!

Since I became a manager in 1991, I have been involved in many office moves.  From desks to cubes, moving entire units from one location to another.  I don’t care for office moves at all.  Employees tend to hyper focus on their space.  You have the office decorator – who has every tchotchke (hundreds) lined up on their cube, the hoarder-who has every file or piece of paper they have touched in the last 20 years, the litigator-who gets out the tape measure to ensure the equity in space and desk placement, and the privacy freak-who wants their cube positioned so NO ONE CAN SEE THEM.  Pleasing all these types proves difficult at best.  And moving employees brings out the kvetching on a large scale.  Of course I don’t remember those employees who didn’t complain and moved easily.

Anyway, I will continue to follow these topics.  Will save my thoughts on telework for another post.