As agencies reshape their personnel policies following the COVID-19 pandemic, a key question that emerges asks what the federal workplace will look like in the future.
The next step for agencies is to both implement and evaluate their need for physical office spaces, a factor that has significantly lessened for many agencies since the start of the pandemic.
The Office of Management and Budget called on agencies in a July 20 memo to start thinking more concretely about how much, and what types of, property is necessary to fully implement their vision for the future of work in the federal sector.
Agencies have until Dec. 16 this year to develop and submit their office workspace plan, called a “capital plan,” to both OMB and the Federal Real Property Council. The plans will account for fiscal years 2024 through 2028, the memo stated. Previously, OMB paused the requirement for agencies to deliver their plans due to the pandemic.
In the memo, OMB Director Shalanda Young reminded agencies that their office space plans must align with the White House’s budget request.
“As the annual capital plans are developed in subsequent fiscal years, OMB and agencies will achieve a full and accurate estimate of the real property resources required,” the memo stated.
There are several other factors that OMB said agencies should keep in mind when developing their plans.
“Agencies should also consider broader workforce and workplace trends, lessons learned from agency operations during the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for the federal government to be competitive for top talent as employers in the broader labor market,” OMB wrote.
Some of those workplace trends include the roles of hybrid work, alternative work schedules and online collaboration, as well as telework and remote work policies. Agencies should integrate these considerations into the next iteration of their capital plans, OMB said.
Chief human capital officers will also play a significant role in agencies’ development of their workspace plans, by looking at the needs for personnel working in physical office spaces.
Additionally, chief information officers will be responsible for collaborating with their agencies to assess the availability of online tools and resources that can contribute to a hybrid workforce moving forward. CIOs should also consider what cloud-based software and cybersecurity their agency will need to support a distributed workforce, with employees working in different physical locations, as well as how those tools might affect the agency’s need for physical office space.
OMB also pointed to the President’s Management Agenda, with its priority of strengthening and empowering the federal workforce. It’s all with the goal in mind of implementing agencies’ ideas for their future of work plans, while also working to better compete with the private sector and position the federal government as a model employer.
Additionally, OMB recommended that agencies work with the General Services Administration for more support in developing their capital plans, for those that use properties under GSA’s control.
GSA has continued to hammer out what the future of the federal workspace will look like in its Workplace 2030 initiative, which looks to largely change how and where federal employees work.
“For some agencies, on-site work will continue to be essential to mission,” GSA wrote in the initiative overview. “Others will move toward a more distributed model, redirecting real estate costs toward technologies and services that empower the workforce.”
Coupled with the new OMB memo, agencies now have a concrete deadline to figure out their office space needs, at the same time that GSA is making considerable changes to federal office facilities. Federal building officials at GSA have the opportunity to make a shift to more government-owned buildings, rather than leases, as 40% of leases will expire within the next four years.
In the same time frame, many agencies will likely reduce their office space, said Nina Albert, the commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service. GSA’s lease changes will give agencies more opportunities to take advantage of workplace flexibilities. On average, agency leaders expect to decrease their office space needs between 20% and 50%, considering the effect of the pandemic in increasing how many feds are teleworking for the long-term.