What’s the Deal with ‘Tightsizing’?

The Federal Times posted an article online yesterday about the emerging trend of ‘tightsizing’ in the federal government. Agencies are looking to reduce the office space of employees to accommodate more feds. The idea is that by fitting more workers into an already existing work space it prevents an agency form leasing additional real estate to accommodate it’s growing staff. The article also mentions other ideas in optimizing office space while staying on budget. Read over the article and share you thoughts with us!


Your new (shrinking) workplace: Agencies resort to ‘tightsizing’

Federal Times

When Dan Tangherlini became assistant secretary of the Treasury in 2009, he inherited a 700-square-foot corner office.

But he gave it up — the reproduction of George Washington’s desk, an antique conference table and even his door — for a 100-square-foot workspace.

His message to staff: As budgets shrink and workloads grow, we’re all going to have to make sacrifices.

Including elbow room.

The same is happening at other federal worksites as managers grapple with tight budgets and growing workloads and staffs.

In taking on new missions to repair the damage of the financial crisis, Treasury Department headquarters staffing ballooned 18 percent in the past year and a half.

The result: The average space per person shrank from 191 square feet to 167, sparing the department an estimated $1.9 million annually in additional leased space costs.

There’s a word for that, Tangherlini says: “tightsizing.”

Another Treasury office in Washington is slated to grow from 58 people in 2009 to 92, cutting the average space per employee by more than a third, from 201 square foot to 127. Treasury estimates it will avoid $383,000 in extra rent.

Treasury can do this because many employees telework regularly or are out of the office much of the time.

A chief hurdle, however, is convincing employees that their importance is not proportioned to the size of their offices.

“We are going against nearly a hundred years of history,” Tangherlini said.

A way to do that is by getting employees involved in the process and engaging them in a conversation about how to best accomplish the agency’s missions.

“Can we look at this traditional layout and ask what we are going to accomplish in this space instead of ‘How big is my office?’ or ‘How high are my partitions?'” he said.

Joseph Hungate, the deputy inspector general for tax administration at Treasury, said employees are mostly positive about the changes when they are implemented to reduce costs and protect the mission.

But, he said June 9 at a Federal Facilities Council (FFC) workshop, there was some “gnashing of teeth” from employees who needed their names on a desk.

He said the changes have given employees increased freedom in the form of telework, and that makes up for the loss of permanent reserved space.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., the chairman of the House public buildings subcommittee, said housing more employees in less space will save a “tremendous” amount of money.

“The private sector already uses innovative ideas to increase their utilization rates, and I believe that we can reduce our federal footprint by doing the same,” Denham said.

Federal employees are already seeing a growing trend in new work arrangements:

• Reservation systems — or “hoteling” — that assign cubicles on a daily basis, instead of permanently assigned workstations.

• “Touch down” spaces, which are smaller areas with desks and seating for employees who are only in the office for a short time during the workday.

• Lower partition walls, which officials say reduces noise pollution because neighbors are more mindful of their noise.

Much of the challenge lies in changing the culture, according to Gavin Bloch, the chief asset officer at the General Services Administration.

He is working to cut down on traditional cubicles — or “dog altars,” as he calls them, because of employees who adorn their cubicle walls with pictures of pets — and replace them with more flexible workspaces.

Bloch said at the FFC workshop that engaging his employees early to get their input helped ease the transition.

His Washington office is undergoing a renovation that will place 87 people into the same space previously occupied by 47 employees.

Employees will be able to choose between a mixture of smaller, more open workspaces, collaborative spaces such as conference-style meeting rooms, and “hoteling” areas. There will be no assigned workstations, and employees will have to sign up whenever they come to the office.

Bloch said agencies facing budget cuts need to do whatever it takes to protect their core missions, and that includes reducing the cost of real estate.

“I would rather give up some of the space I currently use than my job,” he said.

Employees were mostly positive, he said, because he had sought their input early in the process and incorporated ideas such as “neighborhoods” of desks and workspaces that different divisions could be centered around.

GSA also is renovating its Washington headquarters to host 6,000 employees — up from 2,000 — with a small increase in space, according to GSA public buildings commissioner Bob Peck. The project will be completed in 2016.

Don Bathurst, chief administrative officer at the Department of Homeland Security, said the department consolidated space at one of its Washington locations, shrinking from 215 square feet per person to less than 100.

DHS reconfigured that building’s spaces to be more collaborative by creating more meeting spaces and facing workspaces toward each other. It also increased teleworking to save $900,000 in lease costs annually.

Bathurst is sharing his office with Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Brad Cooper and said it’s still rare for both of them to be in the office at the same time. They spend the rest of the time in meetings, visiting DHS locations and teleworking.

Part of the challenge will be changing the mindset of employees and redefining work as “what you do, not where you do it,” he said.

Danette Campbell, senior adviser for telework at the Patent and Trademark Office, said aggressive use of telework and hoteling has saved the agency almost $20 million in reduced lease costs since 18 patent examiners began teleworking in 1997.

Now 6,233 employees telecommute, and more than 3,000 telework full time, eliminating the need for full-time office space for those employees.

The agency looks closely at telework and leased space to make sure it is getting an adequate return on investment, Campbell said.

Naomi Leventhal, a director in Deloitte’s Federal Human Capital Practice, said new generations of workers are not looking to work in a cubicle and instead want flexibility.

“We are definitely moving to the end of that permanent personal space,” Leventhal said.

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Dick Davies

“Dog Altars?” That has the ring of truth.

I read yesterday, “Work is an activity, not a destination.”

Kevin Lanahan

While I don’t have a problem with disassociating office/cube size with status, I wonder how small you can make a space before it feels like a kennel. And if you are in an office that requests your presence for 8 hours a day, hoteling would further dehumanize the workplace.

My worry with these trends is that agencies would want to implement these policies without actually reading the article and seeing the management changes that need to take place before you can do this successfully.

Alicia Mazzara

At my first job, I worked in a 9 cubicle office — we were definitely using every bit of space available. That said, lots of folks who were out of entry-level positions had much bigger offices that could have easily held more people. I think it makes sense to utilize the already existing space, but the lack of privacy and noise pollution (especially phone calls) from other cube-dwellers is also distracting.

Dale S. Brown

Has anyone studied productivity of knowlege workers and how it is impacted by environment? I think that it is difficult to do creative work in small environments. Not everyone has a home office where they can concentrate. Teleworking is good for people who want to do it and have home office space that is workable. But a lot of people find their homes distracting and difficult work environments.