The Democracy of Space

This Sunday, Mad Men’s mid-century style will be featured on many TV sets throughout the country as the show enters its final season. Don Draper’s office, complete with its closed door, heavy wooden desk, executive chair, and sofa, represents a generation of workers bound by a culture of hierarchy. The Don Drapers of the working world got the plush window offices, reinforcing their position as “boss.” At too many organizations – including many across federal government, this outdated mentality still exists. We cannot afford to run off of this 1960’s model of working.

Open Office Space
Federal agencies need to respond to the needs of the modern worker, giving employees the tools and the space necessary to help government fulfill its core mission to serve the American people.

At GSA’s 1800 F Street headquarters, everyone can have a window office. Our open workspace and hotelling system allows employees to decide where they work, no matter what position they occupy at the agency. The old Administrator’s office, which Don Draper would feel very comfortable in, is now a conference room that is used for staff meetings, and my desk is now a workstation in the middle of an open office, just like everyone else. This free flowing layout gives me the opportunity to collaborate with the men and women that help this agency meet the needs of the American people.

Many people argue that open workspaces undermine productivity. Critics have said that increased noise levels from ambient conversations interfere with workers’ ability to focus. What these critics do not take into account is the expanded opportunities workers have for quiet space because of open workspaces. Eliminating personal offices and consolidating staff in a collaborative environment creates space for smaller, isolated workspaces that are available to all employees, allowing for a democracy of quiet. No longer is it just the “boss” that can retreat to his/her office to concentrate on heads-down work. Now, any GSA employee can take advantage of the available quiet rooms at our headquarters, whether it’s a contracting officer who needs to review an agreement or an IT specialist who is working on code.

Federal agencies need to respond to the needs of the modern worker, giving employees the tools and the space necessary to help government fulfill its core mission to serve the American people. The open workspace concept is about more than innovative interior design, it is a way to make sure that every worker can support their agency efficiently and effectively. Agency leaders have a responsibility to model behaviors and practices that promote a smarter government. What better way to do just that than from a window seat alongside the very men and women that help create a 21st century government? Don Draper might not like it, but just as our work has come a long way from the ‘heydays’ of the 1960′s — so must our workspaces.