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The Government Hybrid Office

by Keith Fentress / May 20, 2022

The hybrid office is a post-pandemic workplace designed around employees dividing their time between the office and home. It is human-centric in that it incorporates wellness, mobility, and flexibility into the office environment. While corporations have adopted these themes in various forms for many years, government offices need to be faster to embrace these concepts.Now that employees have returned to work after the pandemic, government departments compete with private industries to attract and retain talent. Many departments are rethinking their space needs and considering the hybrid office. However, many are concerned that the hybrid office is inappropriate for public service. After all, your local county department is not Google or Amazon.

This article addresses why government offices may need to adopt flexible and mobile space arrangements faster, why I believe the hybrid office is suitable for the government, and three strategies to help promote the transition to hybrid space.

Slow to Change

As someone who has participated in workplace planning before and during the pandemic, I have observed firsthand that many government departments must be faster to change. This is not to say that departments are opposed to change. Instead, I have found that they tend to be steeped in tradition and bound by rules and regulations that can hinder innovation. They may also need to be made aware of the opportunity to save space and costs via the hybrid office and how space design can promote employee wellness through daylighting, natural features, fresh air technology, etc.

In addition, many departments are still paper-dependent. Reducing the need for paper and storing files online is critical in transitioning from a traditional office setup. The pandemic has prompted many government departments to start this process. However, I have found that they are still “figuring it out” and holding on to archived materials that government regulations may no longer require.

Upper management may also be reluctant to change the organization’s culture. Moving to a hybrid office changes personnel access and how managers supervise, communicate, and manage the work effort. Managers are understandably concerned about productivity because work cannot be as directly observed when employees are not in the office. This can be of particular concern for government organizations that provide direct services to the public.

Hybrid Office: The Right Fit for Government

While these concerns are valid and understandable, it is essential to consider some of the benefits a hybrid office can have for your government organization. You can have a hybrid office and still be available to the public while offering a high level of service. The transition to the hybrid office can reinvigorate your workforce and provide a more forward-thinking feel for the public you serve.

I’ve been in many government offices that badly need maintenance and do not project a positive image for the department or its mission. We can all picture the cubicle farms, piles of manuals, and boxes piled up in an old office that hasn’t been refreshed in 50 years. What kind of message does this send the public about the services provided?

By contrast, transitioning to a hybrid office with clean open spaces, adequate daylighting, plants and other natural materials, and modern workstations can transform both the public's perception and the employees' spirit.

Such offices exist today in government agencies and departments but are the exception rather than the rule. The future government office should have these features as the standard.

As I mentioned above, government organizations compete with private industries to attract and retain talent in a job market that favors the employee and job-seeker highly. Working from home is a significant benefit that most office employees have come to expect. This arrangement allows employees to achieve a better work-life balance and save on commuting costs. If the mission and job function are conducive to telework, you are fighting an uphill battle if you force people to come into the office five days a week.

The benefits of telework don’t stop with the employee. Working from home can provide employees with uninterrupted periods to focus on getting work done, boosting overall organizational productivity. There are many interruptions in the traditional office, from the chatty coworker to the loud meeting down the hall. The home office can provide more opportunities to focus uninterrupted.

While the home office tends to provide greater focus, the hybrid office provides time to collaborate with coworkers and focus on customer service to the public. Important face-to-face meetings and public-facing activities can be scheduled for this in-office time. While it requires some coordination to make this happen effectively, working from home and coming into the office can energize employees to focus more on customer service while interfacing with the public in the hybrid office. Of course, public phone calls and emails can be taken at home or in the office.

The benefits of the hybrid office far outweigh any potential downsides, and I hope you are becoming convinced, too.

3 Ways to Promote Change

Suppose you’re considering moving to a hybrid office arrangement. In that case, I offer three strategies to help you break through the resistance and successfully transition from traditional to hybrid office space.

Visit a Functioning Hybrid Office

The first thing I recommend is visiting hybrid offices that are already up and running. Nothing is like seeing an office firsthand and talking with the personnel working in it to help someone become more educated about and comfortable with hybrid office concepts.

I suggest a tour (ideally with another government organization, but a commercial workplace is also an option) to do this. Commercial furniture showrooms can also be good places to tour and learn about the latest in flexible office arrangements, workstation types, and collaborative spaces.

Government personnel must see how an office is set up, how technology is used, and how hybrid organizations schedule and share workstations and collaboration rooms. It is also helpful for government representatives to hear firsthand how the transition was planned, how resistance was handled, how the hybrid office supports the public service functions, and any insights on productivity and morale. This type of conversation is eye-opening and will typically help government office managers understand and feel more comfortable with hybrid office concepts.

Reduce the Paper

Government departments should continue to reduce paper. Paper reduction and electronic file management are essential hurdles that must be crossed to promote mobility. Consider the following:

  • Imaging and scanning: Start with current documents as they come in and work backwards in time to scan older files.
  • Archiving – make sure you are up to date with archiving documents. When conducting space planning efforts, we often find that departments hold onto files much longer than needed.
  • Electronic Systems – implement systems that enable the public to complete electronic filings, paperwork, and online research. Such systems streamline processes and add convenience for the public.
  • Online file storage - store your files and work materials on an office shared drive or in the cloud to enable remote access and the ability to back up your work.

After reducing paper, you will be surprised at how uncluttered and open a traditional office will feel. This is a critical step in making the hybrid office transition.

Communicate and Set Up a Prototype

Once the decision to transition to a hybrid office has been made, it is essential to engage all managers and employees in space planning activities. At the outset, town hall meetings, surveys, focus groups, workshops, and other written and verbal communication can be used to keep employees informed and engaged. The more employees are updated, consulted, and trained throughout the process, the more likely they will embrace the change.

As the space transition nears, it is advisable to set up a prototype space so employees can practice using the new space and technology. This gives them a very tangible feel for what it will be like to work in a hybrid office environment. Such a space could include different workstations and furniture for focused and collaborative work. It could also include example home-office setups, demonstrating economy and efficiency for both small and large home-office environments.

Employees should try the furniture, workstations, and associated technology. Their feedback should be solicited for any decisions (lighting, comfort, ease of use, etc.) that still need to be finalized. This allows employees to gain comfort with the new space design while giving feedback on their preferences. But remember that it is essential to communicate what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable. It defeats the purpose of asking for input for decisions already cast in stone.

It is also advisable to have managers visibly work from the prototype area. This will communicate an unmistakable message regarding management support.

The lessons learned from the prototype will likely influence design decisions for the overall space project. Please take this opportunity to test your more significant project concepts before investing all the time and money in furnishings and features that do not pass muster with the people who will be using them.

Government Office of the Future

The future government office will look very much like corporate offices, with an emphasis on catering to its public mission. I am not expecting foosball tables and nap pods; I am expecting a clean, bright, and open office with appropriate government decor and sufficient counter, reception, and meeting space to accommodate public service.

The hybrid office can boost employee morale, support a better work-life balance, reduce office space size through workspace sharing, and improve public perception. Going hybrid means a lot to gain, and I sincerely hope the government will embrace this opportunity as employees return to work.

Tags: Hybrid Office

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Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress is the founder and president of Fentress Incorporated. He has an extensive history of consulting to real property organizations. His skills include change management, program evaluation, and business process improvement. He enjoys adventure travel and outdoor pursuits like backpacking, canoeing, and snorkeling.