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The New Normal: Exploring Hybrid Government Workplaces

by Keith Fentress / February 19, 2024

Much discussion has been about the “new normal” workplace as we have emerged from the pandemic. The hybrid office has evolved as a modern alternative to the traditional office. However, many government departments seem caught between the past and present workplace.

The past represents traditional workplaces with dedicated workstations and enclosed offices. The modern hybrid office is based on flexibility. Government employees want flexibility, including working from home, reducing commuting costs, and a better work-life balance.

The pandemic has let the “remote work cat” out of the bag, and government departments with the mission to serve the public are struggling with the future of the workplace.

Mixed Experience

Over the past two years, we have planned office space for 23 government departments at the city and county levels. The departments include human resources, social services, community development, facilities, economic development, finance, government attorneys’ offices, voter registration, and information technology, among others. This does not include our work performed for courts or public safety agencies.

The office arrangements being planned by the departments are as follows:

  • 12 departments (52%) request all employees to be in the office full-time and plan traditional office space.
  • 9 departments (39%) are uncertain about how the future of telework will impact their space and are willing to plan traditional office space with some collaborative and focused spaces included in the office.
  • 2 departments (9%) are pursuing a full hybrid office and are planning for employees to be in the office 50% or less of their work week.

Our experience is not unique, and many government departments struggle with the best course of action for their workplace.

Consider the Hybrid Office

I am all for the hybrid office, assuming the work suits routine telework and the right technology is in place. About 10 years before the hybrid office emerged, we started planning for open and agile offices in addition to traditional office settings. 

Having stayed in touch with our clients in open offices, I have seen that their culture and work processes have changed to accommodate flexibility as employees work both in the office and remotely. Traditional department silos have given way to more cross-departmental communications, especially when multiple departments share the same work areas in the office.

Also, the workspace has a modern feel with lots of daylight, clean work surfaces, visible technology, and the ability to move about the office to work at different workstations suited to the task. Also, these modern workplaces give the departments a greater ability to attract and retain the next generation of employees.

Government Hybrid Office Benefits

Below are several key benefits of the hybrid office.

Increased Flexibility

A couple of forms of flexibility come with a hybrid office. The first is the ability to work from the office or home. This arrangement reduces commuting costs and provides a greater work-life balance.

A second form of flexibility happens in the office. With the right mix of collaborative and focused spaces, employees can have the flexibility to work from a space in the office that suits their needs. This form of flexibility untethers the employee from a dedicated office or workstation and opens the employee to an entire office of different spaces. Different spaces can be used for various tasks and/or the employee’s work style.

Purposeful Collaboration

Having everyone report to an office daily will naturally result in employee collaboration. In a hybrid office, it is the job of managers to plan for more purposeful collaboration, such as discussing projects, brainstorming, training, etc. Significant time also needs to be scheduled to address the needs of the public if there is a public-facing side to the department.

While all this engagement requires more strategy and thoughtfulness on behalf of managers, it also promotes the use of the office as a place to collaborate and connect. If done right, the office can become more energized. Employees can recharge their batteries at home and approach their office days with less burnout and stress.

Reduces Space

A key benefit of the hybrid office is to reduce space needs. Since there is regular teleworking, there should not be as many private offices and dedicated workstations. Instead, the sharing of offices and workstations is promoted.

We commonly tour government spaces and notice that the offices are occupied 50% or less. If this is the case, employees can reduce and share the space, typically at a ratio of three employees for every two workstations. We have also used the ratio of four employees per three workstations or two employees per workstation, depending on the telework frequency and culture of the department.

A key benefit of the hybrid office is to reduce space needs and, therefore, consolidate government space into fewer facilities and/or to have the ability to stay longer in an existing building.

Key Steps of the Government Hybrid Office

We have found these steps crucial in planning a successful government hybrid office.

Reduce Paper

The first step is to reduce reliance on paper. We still see many government offices with paper everywhere. Offices should invest in imaging, scanning, and digitizing their files and documents to reduce their reliance on paper.

Getting rid of paper requires a commitment to file storage, archiving, and acquiring the technology to work in a digital format. This often frees up considerable space and the sense that employees need dedicated offices to leave files on their work surfaces or store resource materials at their workstations.

Establish a Formal Teleworking Policy

The department must have a formal teleworking policy. This policy should specify when employees need to be in the office and when they can work remotely.

The teleworking policy should also be tied to workspace needs. Employees who are teleworking on a regular rotation do not need a dedicated workspace. Dedicated office space or workstations should be permitted if they do not telework.

Space Planning

Once the paper has been reduced and a teleworking policy established, the next step is to plan for your future office. Hiring a firm specializing in space planning and programming, architecture, and/or interior design is helpful.

Your future office should be laid out in a series of zones or “neighborhoods” that support different work styles and tasks. Some portions of a department may need to be located together because of the job requirements. This often happens for offices with sensitive conversations, like human resources, or ones that deal with cash accounting and reconciliation, like a finance office. It is important to determine which portions of a department need to be adjacent to other teams or departments.

The neighborhoods should also be set up to accommodate different work styles. Employees who collaborate a lot should have their workstations near a mix of spaces, such as conference rooms, huddle spaces, and informal meeting areas. Employees who perform heads-down work should be in quieter neighborhoods and have small rooms dedicated to individual work, such as a “phone booth” or “getaway booth.” Having the right mix of neighborhoods is important because you do not want employees who require concentration sitting in a noisy area or vice versa.

Set up a Pilot Area

Another helpful strategy is to set up a pilot area in a portion of your facility. Identify an early adopter willing to change their space and serve as a pilot program for others to see. Seeing the types of furniture and technology firsthand can help other departments better understand the benefits of a hybrid office layout.

Change Management

This is the most overlooked portion of the hybrid office. Often, departments don’t recognize the need for change management or assume that change has occurred because employees worked remotely during the pandemic.

Working remotely to respond to a national shutdown is very different from having a department successfully function while allowing the flexibility of long-term teleworking. A hybrid office impacts more than just the space; it also impacts how people work and collaborate, and the department's culture.

I typically recommend the following ways to promote change management and communication. Employee engagement is key, so starting the process with a town hall meeting is helpful to let employees know that the office is going through a transition and that their input is needed. 

The next step is an employee survey to gather more information on expectations, concerns, and work styles. Holding a series of focus groups where a facilitator can ask questions and employees can engage in a small group format is helpful to take a deeper dive into the survey results.

Information from the survey and focus groups can then be presented to management. This is often a critical moment, especially if a manager's expectations do not align with employees' desires. Typical resistance points include the frequency of telework, giving up workstations/offices, and whether the department culture supports the hybrid office concepts. Employee perspectives must be heard and addressed positively and constructively.

Finally, education and training are critical parts of change management. It is helpful to have personnel visit other hybrid offices and engage in the pilot program mentioned above to obtain first-hand experience. It is also important to assess training needs, including the technology, new work processes, setting up an effective home office, and how managers can successfully supervise employees who are both in the office and working remotely.

Leadership Sets the Example

Given the change required to transition to a hybrid office, leadership must set an example. This means that leadership should have a telework schedule and share space when possible. If leadership personnel keep private offices and expect the staff to work in less space, it can form tensions in the workplace.

What we have done with leadership personnel requiring offices is to provide them with smaller offices with demountable walls instead of larger enclosed offices. We also provide a higher ratio of collaboration spaces near leadership suites. That way, leadership personnel can set an example by occupying smaller spaces while holding frequent meetings in adjacent collaborative spaces.

Final Thoughts

Establishing a successful hybrid government office is never easy. It requires considerable change and is often met with resistance. The benefits of the hybrid office are real, but only if there is a commitment to follow the key steps mentioned above.

Perhaps one of the most important points is that individual workstations and offices do not belong to the employee – they belong to the government. Shift the focus away from what the employees are giving up toward what the employees are getting: autonomy, flexibility, and a better work–life balance. 


Government Hybrid Office Guide


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.