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Get ready as feds return to offices: Restock, refresh and reconfigure

As agencies ramp up for the return of employees to federal facilities, agencies should not expect that people will want to work the ways they did before the pan...


Managing Office Needs as Feds Return to the Office, Yet Many Continue to Telework

As we go back to the office, we need to be thinking about ways to make it have the same kind of comfort that we’ve become accustomed to.


Managing Office Needs as Feds Return to the Office, Yet Many Continue to Telework

This is a great time for agencies to allow their employees to have work environments in two places so they can be the most productive all the time.

With the Biden administration urging the government to be at the forefront of the nation’s workers returning to the office, how can agencies prepare for thousands of employees back onsite after most staffs have worked remotely for two years?

It will definitely be a shock to the system for the government’s office managers and team leaders. It’s not just about making sure there’s paper at copy machines and pens and pencils at desks.

For starters, “there’s certainly more need for cleaning and sanitizing products. That means hand sanitizers and cleaning wipes throughout the building that are more accessible,” said Overstock CEO Jonathan Johnson during the discussion Managing office needs as feds return to the office, yet many continue to telework, sponsored by Overstock Government.

But what other factors are at play, and how should agencies be thinking about the future of work as well? Federal News Network spoke with Johnson about how agencies can best prepare for a mass return of employees to federal facilities while also supporting the needs of employees who continue to work remotely all or part of the time.

The office is not the same today as before the pandemic

A critical element is flexibility and rethinking how feds will want to work, not just in the coming weeks as they return to government offices but in the months and years ahead, Johnson said. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the way people work, how they collaborate and their expectations about their workspaces.

“It’s important that as people come back to work, we take a look at refreshing the space and making it fit the needs of a new culture — making sure it works for everyone,” Johnson said. “This can mean new desks. It can mean new chairs. And it can mean updating the decor and layout so it fits the new mode of work that we’re all going to be moving into.”

Johnson has the advantage of access to some unique data about how agencies are readying the government’s workspaces. Overstock Government, a full-service office supply business, is one of three vendors taking part in the General Service Administration’s first e-marketplaces for commercial items. The company is a little over a year into the three-year, proof-of-concept contract.

Yes, agencies are buying lots of things through Overstock Government’s online self-service platform that you find in all offices: chairs, desks, printer cartridges, computer monitors, cleaning supplies, paper and the like. But they also are ordering lots of headsets, for instance (“people have become used to quiet working environments and headsets,” Johnson noted).

“But the other thing that we are seeing that I think is most telling about how offices are changing is we’ve seen a lot of purchases of wall art and rugs,” he said. “The sterile office place of the pre-pandemic — and when I say sterile, I don’t necessarily mean germ-free, I just mean cut-and-paste — is going away. People want something homier.”

After those two years working from home, it should not come as a surprise that agencies want to make the federal work environment feel a little bit closer to the home work environment that people have had for so long now, Johnson said.

Even as agencies ramp up and restock for employees working in federal facilities, they also must balance that against the continuing office needs of remote workers. It’s one of the reasons that the e-marketplace proof of concept came at an ideal time, Johnson says. It makes it easy for agencies to find and buy supplies on demand for delivery anywhere, and to track and analyze purchase data, he added.

Prepare now for the future of work in reconfigured workspaces

Beyond changing “the feel” of the office environment, Johnson also suggests that agencies should plan for different uses of the federal workspace.

“This is a great time to reset and figure out how people work best together,” he said. “That includes more collaboration space, for sure.”

People, in many instances, will be coming to the office to be with and work with other people. After two years of working digitally, teams have figured out how to be as, or more, productive remotely. Employees will be seeking different needs from coming into their offices because of that, Johnson points out.

“There’s definitely a rethinking of the configuration of the office … shared workspaces, open workspaces, collaboration spaces with comfortable chairs and sofas — surrounding a computer screen that people can look at,” he said. “People want to work in a way that is more collaborative and really coming back to the office to connect more than ‘We’re coming back because the boss says.’ ”

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