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APRIL 2015



This month I review the State

Department’s collaborative

open-plan workspaces in light

of their increasing use in the

public and private sectors (a

trend reported in a Feb. 22

NewYork Times

article; see

). I

believe there is a pressing

need for employee input into

the process.

Islamabad and SA-5:


department’s first open-plan

embassy is scheduled to

open in Islamabad this year.

During my March 2014 trip

to South Asia, I toured the

construction site (see my June 2014 column) and, b


in Washington, met with the

Bureau of Overseas Building

Operations to learn more

about the proposed collabor-

ative employee workspaces.

Several months later, I met

with the Bureau of Interna-

tional Information Programs

to discuss the introduction

of collaborative open-plan

workspaces in State Annex-5,

which would be the depart-

ment’s first open-plan domes-

tic spaces. As part of the

required union consultation,

IIP arranged for us to visit the

General Services Administra-

tion’s headquarters at 1800 F

Street NW, which had recently

gone through an impressive

multimillion-dollar transfor-

mation, and replaced almost

all private offices with open-

plan collaborative space.

GSA Transformation:


the agency’s sixth floor we

Open-Plan Offices: Boon or Bane?

met with Dan Tangherlini,

then-GSA administrator, in

his “office.” He greeted us

from his triangular desk in

the center of the floor and

described the transforma-

tion’s cost savings ($30 mil-

lion annually) and employee

productivity gains (increased

collaboration, efficiency and

innovation). To see a photo

of the open-plan GSA space,

go to st_nw.

Tangherlini also stressed

the importance of a holistic

approach and partnering with

stakeholders (i.e., unions) to

execute the change. He noted

that gains could only be real-

ized when matched by invest-

ments in enabling technology

(IT hardware and software,

VoIP phones and wireless

signal boosters).

He emphasized that a

collaborative open-plan

workspace does not mean

no offices at all, but rather

different types of collabora-

tive spaces of various scalable

sizes with ergonomic furni-

ture. He also suggested that

agencies wishing to replicate

the transformation could use

savings from rent and admin-

istrative expenses to finance

the required investments in

technology and furniture.

Working Group:

Returning to

the State Department, I was

struck by the possibilities

of collaborative workspaces

to transform how we sup-

port and conduct diplomacy

domestically and overseas.

I was also conscious of the

need for a more coordinated

approach with extensive

employee input.

AFSA has proposed an


mation Resource Manage-

ment initiative to organize

an employee focus group,

with representatives from all

three unions (AFSA, AFGE

Local 1534, NFFE Local 1998)

to consider how the depart-

ment might be able to take

advantage of the potential

of collaborative workspaces

while avoiding its pitfalls.

Currently, the open-

plan workspaces are being

designed on a project- and

bureau-specific basis, with

ad hoc post- and bureau-level

employee input.We think that

a more centralized employee

focus group would ensure

that lessons are shared and

mistakes avoided.

Representational Space:

Such a focus group could

look not only at our internal

spaces, but at public areas

as well. The reality is that

only a handful of visitors to

Main State or our embas-

sies will ever see the seventh

floor’s Mahogany Row or the

ambassador’s office. The rest

of us need adequate space to

meet with our interlocutors.

The current overhaul of

Main State is a prime oppor-

tunity to create modern,

IT-enabled, representational

rooms for visitors on the

ground floor. Such rooms

could be booked online and

serviced by staff with repre-

sentational food and beverage

expenses billed back to the

relevant office. How often

have we had to apologize for

the conditions of our meeting

rooms and scrounge around

in the cupboard, or over to

CVS, for some coffee, tea and



While the

domestic savings to be real-

ized through the introduction

of collaborative workspaces

are substantial, the real

potential is found overseas,

where the construction

and administrative costs

of classified and unclassi-

fied space are considerable.

Such savings could then be

invested in the technology

and accoutrements required

for 21st-century diplomacy.

Such considerations should

be included in the depart-

ment’s ongoing rightsizing



It has taken me

some time to get used to

the idea of collaborative

workspaces. I was spoiled

as an intern with a private

office in our historic consul-

ate in Frankfurt. However, in

Munich I oversaw the intro-

duction of a modified open-

plan space in our consular

section and have worked in

three such spaces since. The

change is taking place across

the federal government, and I

submit that it would be more

successful with employee

input than without it.


Next Month: Quality of

Work/Life at State.




Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.


| (202) 647-8160 | @matthewasada