GSA Boosts Staff Collaboration in Half the Workstation Space

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Chair of the Month

Among the finalists of our Work Design Now series sponsored by Haworth is the GSA’s Rocky Mountain Regional HQ, the Denver Federal Center.

We at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) are changing the dynamics of staff collaboration in our physical space. The Rocky Mountain regional headquarters at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colo., is an example of our efforts to use space more efficiently and support productivity.

The impetus for this change arose when two of GSA’s business lines decided to consolidate into one building. Bringing the Federal Acquisition Service and the Public Buildings Service into the same office meant reducing the size of workstations and increasing the amount of flex-use space.

Moving away from traditional “cube” offices, our project team created one mobile work environment for the two groups. The space leverages technology to allow employees to collaborate and work more efficiently from any place, at any time.

In today’s workplace, mobile work environments are cutting costs, saving taxpayer dollars, and letting us reshape our workforce. This results in increased collaboration and efficiency.

We decided to increase the amount of small meeting areas and collaborative space. As part of phase one, our team was able to modify and reconfigure much of the existing furniture into unique stations that would accommodate different types of work styles. Although individual stations decreased in size, the mobile work concept provided employees with an innovative way of working that was far less restrictive.

The new configuration bolstered productivity, and employees began to collaborate in new ways as they gravitated away from their assigned cubicle.

As users selected work spaces that supported both their job and how they like to work, they began interacting with new people, exploring new ideas, and gaining additional insights.

The Rocky Mountain regional office has reduced space per employee by 48 percent – from 145 square feet per person down to 100. When compared to the traditional 8’x8’ cube layout, the new designs cuts the real-estate footprint, material consumption, and overall cost of each workstation.

Fewer square feet per person allows for a larger workforce in the same envelope, and when a workstation’s cost-to-build can be halved, it becomes easier to grow.

During phase two, we established nine different mobility areas to suit different work styles. They are built to facilitate a variety of work-styles, including:

  • Highly mobile working styles with minimal storage
  • Workspace that is comfortable and allows for very high level of collaboration
  • Stations that are intended to provide a feel that is quiet, peaceful and neighborly
  • Areas where employees can work while being healthy on walking stations
  • A conference area that allows employees to collaborate using video conferencing and screen sharing

The project involved a number of furniture manufacturers; with them, we created nine different mobility areas as a showcase to other federal agencies. We created these stations based on the feedback from our employees and what they needed to accomplish their jobs, while at the same time having to be frugal.

As the federal government’s landlord, the GSA owns or leases about 9,200 buildings across the country. We are breaking the mold of the government office. We are looking to use space more efficiently with open floor plans, collaborative work areas, and mobile work.

The GSA is shifting the way we think about the collaborative environment to how people work, and away from how they should work.

Measuring performance

The two GSA business lines are now able to operate effectively in one building, instead of two.

  • Space-per-employee reduced by 48 percent
  • Real-estate footprint and material consumption are both decreased
  • Workstation’s cost-to-build is halved
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  1. Great to see GSA experimenting successfully with new configurations! Looks like a diverse set of workspaces. Given the headline, would have loved to see more discussion of how collaboration was “boosted” per the headline. Only one line in the article speaks to this, even though it is in bold. What groups began to interact in new ways? What kinds of interactive activities sprung up that had not been there before? What types of new insights are being had?

    We know now that open offices reduce space-per-employee. Would love to hear more about the impact on the work that goes on in the office.

    • Hi Samuel. GSA started to look at ways of working that responded to today–â„¢s workforce. We made changes such as replacing cubicles with open workspaces. Without cubicles to separate them, employees started to work together at impromptu meetings in shared spaces or quick follow-up conversations at their desks. We integrated the Denver Federal Service Center which focuses on managing buildings, real estate and project management, and the Organization Resources group, which focuses on regional training and meeting facilitation. Not only were employees within the same groups collaborating, but the two different groups started talking and realized how one could benefit the other.

  2. I agree with Samuel. I would like to see some data on productivity and employee satisfaction. With more collaboration and interactions come more interruptions that lower productivity. All the research on office design since the 1950s has indicated that open-office plans lower productivity and increase employee stress, especially on introverts who constitute half of the population. The only proponents of open-office designs are companies that want to cut costs on rent and furnishings, furniture vendors, and pop business magazines that buy into the propaganda. If GSA, the largest landlord in the world, has a magic formula for decreasing costs and at least maintaining productivity, and can prove it, we want to hear it.

    • Hi Numbercruncher.

      Early on, GSA distributed surveys to employees that guided our efforts every step of the way. By listening to employees, tapping into available technology, and establishing some communal office protocols, we are getting positive feedback from our employees.

      One size does not fit all, however, and it is important to have customizable options that are appropriate to the agency–â„¢s mission. For example, while we did move towards the open space concept, we added and kept several key components that employees wanted. They told us they needed smaller conference rooms and more collaborative areas. By adding in smaller conference rooms (seats up to four people) and making some open for anyone to use and the others reservable, this allowed for more options and better use of the larger conference rooms.

      By listening to employees, tapping into available technology, and establishing some communal office protocols, we are getting positive feedback from our employees. It–â„¢s important to keep in mind that this is a learning process. We continue to build on our successes and fine tune others.

  3. Thanks Samuel and Numbercruncher. We’re digging into more specifics for detailed performance metrics on this project and others, so stay tuned.


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