For Federal Managers, Workspace Sharing Can be Blessing & Curse

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A trend in government is the rise of federal employees telecommuting and working from home. The increase is spurred by studies showing that working at home can be more productive, morale increasing, and leads to a more effective workforce in general. However, the growing emphasis on telecommuting has correspondingly led to the growth of empty desks in government buildings on any given day. While some agencies have been slow to react to such changes, others have fully embraced what is becoming the “new normal” and have revamped their offices to reflect the reality of less workers being physically present. These changes will ultimately present federal managers and executives with different challenges and opportunities than the old office model culture did in the past.

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted one of the agencies leading the charge in adapting to new workplace realities, the General Services Administration (GSA). The agency’s downtown Washington, D.C. headquarters recently underwent an overhaul that shifted the building from a staid, cubicle-based bureaucrat’s dream to one that looks as if it could house Apple or Google. Because the GSA has been at the forefront of the work from home movement, any given weekday sees a large percentage of the workforce absent. Accordingly, the building has shifted from containing cubicles and private offices to emphasizing shared workplaces, where dozens of employees work in rooms without permanently assigned desks. Most workspaces are now “reserved” by employees for days when they will be working on-site, and may see a different person at a given workspace each day. Teams of employees often reserve spaces together to work on projects, while individual employees can choose to work where they wish within the building.

Within the government, the GSA is clearly in the forefront of adapting to growing work from home rates and in embracing the desk-sharing program. So far, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security, Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors have also launched desk-sharing initiatives. If trends continue, an increasing number of  agencies will begin to at least consider the approach.

For those managers who are or will be overseeing their workforces in a desk-sharing environment, there are challenges. Many employees have worked for years, even decades, at a personal desk, with a familiar space becoming almost a second home. Employees get used to sitting next to certain people, and many employees rely upon a routine in order to manage their day. Desk-sharing environments can disrupt all of that. If your office does undergo a transition to become more open and desk-share friendly, morale can decrease sharply before it goes back up. Federal executives and supervisors need to carefully manage the culture shift. While productivity may go up in the long run, there is a good chance it is disrupted in the short term. Managers can help ease this process by checking in frequently with employees to see how they are adapting, and opening up more to employee suggestions that may aid the team as a whole. Having more employees telework also means that managers need to learn how to effectively check up on employees, even when they are not physically present. The cultural disruptions associated with desk-sharing also may lead to some hostility from employees whose familiar work environment has changed drastically.

Given the pressures such a transition may generate, one of the best ways a federal manager can protect themselves is with a professional liability insurance policy. Having PLI will mean coverage against any EEO complaints, hostile work environment allegations, and similar matters. Any scenario in which employees may become upset can often lead to allegations, however spurious, against management. The FEDS PLI policy will provide you with high-quality legal representation in such matters, and prevent you from having to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend yourself. Visit www.fedsprotection.com to learn more today.


For more information on your specific exposures now, how professional liability insurance protects, or how the FEDS program differs from other insurance programs, please visit the FEDS website and choose the Executive and Managers tab. For more articles like this one, read "Yesterday's Headlines, Today's Coverage" in the bottom left corner on the FEDS homepage.

Posted in Manager Matters

Tags: telework, telework management, workspace sharing

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