Your Next Office Could Have Six Desks for Every 10 Workers

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The General Services Administration in September unveiled a new approach to office space that kicked down cubicles and private offices in favor of open space, conference rooms and an increased emphasis on telework. GSA wants other agencies to follow suit through its Total Workforce Initiative, and some departments – namely Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security – already are signing up in hopes of reducing their real estate footprints, cutting costs and enabling a more flexible workforce.

Is this what the future looks like for your federal agency – where mobile technology, teleworking and desk sharing become the new way to work?

Tom Simmons, area vice president of public sector at Citrix, says yes. A study released by the company in September projected that by 2020, organizations will reduce office space by almost one-fifth and will provide just six desks for every ten office workers. That study – a result of a survey of 1,900 senior IT decision makers – also predicts that workers will access the corporate information technology network from an average of six different computing devices.

Citrix is one company leading this change in the private sector. The concept – which the company calls “workshifting” – has led to flexible workspaces in four of its U.S. office locations, reducing the desk space ratios to one for every four or five employees.

“Most recently, we’ve pushed the envelope a bit and gone to a real forward-thinking work environment where instead of a traditional cube setup, we have different kinds of workspaces that look more like a waiting room or lobby with couches and chairs and work surface attached,” he said. “The technology behind that is enabling you to access a virtual workspace and move around where you need to.”

Last fall, I had the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley to tour some top companies like Facebook and IDEO for an article on open workspace and innovation. These open, collaborative environments are ingrained in the cultures of these companies, so much that the employees I interviewed said they could not imagine transitioning back to the traditional mode of cube farms and personal desk space.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for federal agencies will be addressing the cultural issues for employees, many of whom want flexible work options like telework but do not necessarily want to give up their personal space at the office. The key for agencies, Simmons said, is striking the right balance for employees and ensuring they are involved in the office redesign.

“The beauty of doing flex workspace is it provides options,” he said. “For those who feel like they personally are more productive with assigned workspace, create those areas where folks can have that same place every day. GSA has done that, and it’s an important aspect of satisfying the entire employee population.”

Federal agencies have a lot to gain when it comes to reducing the real estate footprint, cutting costs, increasing work flexibility for employees and improving retention and productivity, Simmons said. While the private sector is still ahead on this workplace transformation, agencies are making slow progress toward providing this flexible environment, including implementing WiFi in government buildings and allowing more employees to use personal devices for work, he said.

“This is the workspace of the future in government,” he said. “Some of the agencies that are traditionally conservative are going to look to others like GSA to regroup and establish standards and best practices. When we look back five years from now, every agency will offer some of this workspace if they have not migrated to it completely.”

What Government Services Will Look Like in 2020

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With the government’s botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, it may be difficult to imagine a future where federal agencies effectively leverage technology to better serve the American public. Yet a vast majority of public-facing government employees believe that by 2020, technology will make that vision a reality.

A new GovLoop survey of more than 250 federal, state and local employees who consider their work to be customer service-related or oriented found that technology holds the keys for ultimately ending the negative perceptions many in the public have about government service.

By 2020, many of those negative perceptions may be put to rest as the analysis and use of big data along with Web-based and mobile platforms radically transform the way government agencies deliver customer service, respondents noted. Among the most promising technologies were improved website design, search and navigation (72 percent), live online chat (52 percent), mobile applications across multiple devices (39 percent), engagement via social media (36 percent) and online discussion forums (33 percent).

Respondents cited a number of hurdles agencies must overcome in order to reign in this promising customer service future in the next six years, however. Many cited a lack of consistency as the biggest challenge, while inadequate budget and staffing, confusing language for customers, a lack of integrated data and resources and archaic technology and reporting systems also were considered significant challenges to improving customer service going forward.

“Roughly one-third of participants, when asked about their most memorable customer service experience in government, responded critically,” the report states. “Respondents complained about a lack of human contact and unwillingness to meet customers’ needs.”

Still, that same question about respondents’ most memorable customer service experience also led to some signs of improvement in the ways government customer service is delivered today. Respondents cited the increased interaction on social media as well as prompt human responses to questions, even if just to say “I’ll get back to you,” as positive developments for government in serving customers.

Meanwhile, five main trends will emerge as government moves into this customer-focused future. Self-service opportunities, from grocery store kiosks to online applications, will allow citizens to access, process and monitor their government requests on a more widespread and frequent basis. Citizen engagement and partnership efforts that empower citizens will also become more prevalent. Mobile applications, increased social media interactions and the expansion of live, online chats also will radically change the way government delivers services in the next five to ten years.

“Customer service will work like Google search,” one respondent noted in the report. “When I want to know something, I ‘Google’ it. Our customers will be able to attain answers just that quickly, using a search, and then if the ‘Google search’ approach doesn’t yield results, they will be able to access a person easily and quickly.

Cisco, Vets Push IT Careers for Transitioning Military Personnel

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Military veterans and a leading technology company are using this Veterans’ Day as a platform to encourage transitioning military personnel to pursue careers in information technology.

Cisco, in partnership with the White House and other IT companies, in April launched the first-ever IT Training and Certification program, which provided 1,000 veteran and transitioning military personnel with IT backgrounds with free and reduced-cost access to IT training and certification exams and career matching opportunities.

“The war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close in 2014, and we have several million armed services personnel who will be coming off of active duty within the next several years and coming into a somewhat anemic economy,” said Michael Veysey, director of veterans programs at Cisco. “It’s not that there is a shortage of jobs in the U.S.; there are 3.7 million open positions today. The major challenge is how does one match their military skills to these civilian occupations.”

The training and certification program came out of recommendations made last June by the Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, which recommended pairing up the unique contributions veterans bring with their military expertise and training with the need in the IT industry for more highly-skilled workers. The task force also found that while the majority of IT specialists in the military receive training similar or equal to their civilian IT counterparts, very few seek additional off-duty industry training that can lead to IT certifications.

Andrew Marsh, a four-year 1st Lieutenant communications officer in the Marine Corps, was accepted into the training and certification program in May and has since earned three certifications: the Cisco Certified Network Associate, NetApp Certified Storage Associate and Information Technology Infrastructure Library. Marsh was recently offered a position as a consultant with PGTEK of Reston, Va., focusing on geospatial imagery and data center projects. He’s also become the poster child for the training and certification program.

“In the Marine Corps, you’re used to doing more with less, so coming into the civilian world is kind of intimidating because you feel like everyone is ahead of us a decade or so,” Marsh told Wired Workplace. “The skills I learned in the military are really applicable, but it’s easy to get intimidated once you see all of the new technologies out there.”

Marsh was able to match his military service codes to IT career paths and identify the certifications required for those jobs through an online talent exchange platform known as the US IT Pipeline, developed by Futures, Inc. with support from Cisco. The Futures and Cisco team identified 12 high-growth civilian IT jobs and developed algorithms to match the skills for those jobs with roughly 9,000 military occupation codes.

Veysey said the first phase of the initiative garnered more than 2,200 applications from transitioning service members and veterans, some of whom had no IT experience but wanted to enter the IT field.