The federal government is seeking to reduce its real estate and carbon footprint. Laws, most notably the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, support this goal, but as of yet, there are no guidelines for compliance with the mandates. One approach is to implement telework initiatives, which help agencies reduce real estate and energy expenses, while maintaining — or even increasing — efficiency and productivity.
Telework initiatives enable agencies to consolidate or eliminate underutilized offices, conference rooms or entire buildings. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, stated in The Washington Post that the Patent and Trademark Office “was able to consolidate nearly 50,000 square feet of space, thereby avoiding $1.5 million in rent per year through greater use of telework.” The agency also avoided securing $11 million in additional office space as a direct result of its telework hoteling programs.
Agencies that implement telework programs experience significant changes in the usage of rooms and resources, since fewer employees are present on a daily basis. Real estate business intelligence software enables agencies to track room and resource use and to understand trends. This enables them to make informed decisions about real estate and energy consumption.
Given the changes agencies are undergoing due to the Telework Enhancement Act and other pressures, more federal employees will telecommute and fewer will be permanently in the office. Further, when workers are at the office, they will need less dedicated space and resources.
As agencies incorporate telework, it is important to measure actual utilization. As Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of a public buildings subcommittee, told Federal Times last year, “You cannot define how much space we can get rid of or how much we need until we have a utilization factor.”
Telework programs do not eliminate the need to collaborate in the office. However, the old model of having an assigned desk and an employee-to-workspace ratio of 1-to-1 will likely be replaced by the shared-workspace model and 4-1, 5-1 or even 7-1 ratios. For example, Federal Times reported last June that renovation of the General Services Administration’s Washington office will place 87 employees into a space previously occupied by 47.
To manage this reduction of workspace and ensure that productivity is maximized when telework employees are in the office, agencies are employing reservation systems, also known as “office hoteling” programs, wherein employees remotely reserve a meeting space or desk for the duration of their visit.
In addition to eliminating the inefficiency of walking around looking for a vacant workspace, sophisticated office hoteling programs enable agencies to monitor how, when and by whom the spaces are scheduled. Occupancy detection systems go further and help uncover inefficiencies by letting agencies know if reserved spaces are used as scheduled.
Agencies can apply variations of telework to accommodate mobile workers. For example, they might arrange for workers to attend meetings in remote locations through video conferencing and telepresence technology, thereby improving productivity and work-life balance while minimizing travel time and associated costs.
In the case of adverse conditions — such as the 2010 Washington-area snowstorm that kept a quarter-million federal employees home for the better part of a week — telework can save millions of dollars.
Some experts estimated that the snowstorm-forced shutdown cost the government as much as $100 million per day in lost productivity and opportunity costs.
Measuring telework usage and identifying trends enable agencies to reap the rewards of telework initiatives and avoid the pitfalls of wasting money on unnecessary real estate, equipment and resources.
John T. Anderson is president and CEO of PeopleCube, which provides workplace management software and services.