Federal Workspaces that Encourage Innovation

The Federal Government is making progress in implementing more flexible, innovation-friendly workspaces. The General Services Administration (GSA) is leading the charge with the Total Workplace initiative. The focus is to create an environment that allows Federal employees to have the ability to work from just about anywhere by utilizing current mobile technology. GSA Total Workplace specialists are also available to assist other agencies with workplace design and implementation.

So, what exactly does an “innovation-friendly” workspace look like? The answer has several aspects, with the physical worksite being just one. There is much more to a workplace than a building and desk. Organizations that encourage innovation have cultures that are conducive to employee engagement along with the supportive floor plan and policies.


The organizational culture is critical to encouraging innovation in the workplace. It is important to create an atmosphere that is encourages collaboration, creativity, and productivity. There are five basic elements that are necessary for an innovative workplace:

  • Embracing Diversity – The typical focus on diversity is related to gender and ethnicity. Other areas of diversity to consider include age and personality type. Narrowly defined views of diversity limit organizational innovation.
  • Encouraging Productivity – Productivity may be incentivized in many ways. Engaging employees in regular team building activities, promoting friendly competitions and highlighting accomplishments are all possibilities.
  • Boosting Morale – Employee morale is absolutely vital for innovation and productivity. People are far more productive and creative when they want to come to work. This means creating an environment that is comfortable, challenging, and rewarding both extrinsically and intrinsically.
  • Fostering Collaboration– Workspaces that bring people together are great for collaboration, but will fail to be effective if there are policies in place, written or unwritten, that discourage interpersonal interactions. The Harvard Business Review article, Workspaces that Move People, gives an example of successful workspace design:

“At one call center, the company expanded the break room and gave reps more time to hang out there with colleagues. Paradoxically, productivity shot up after the change. Away from their phones, the reps could circulate knowledge within the group.”

  • Valuing People– Many agencies focus on the product or mission and forget the people who drive it. The innovative workplace is very people-centered. Valuing employees will raise their morale and, in turn, their productivity.


Some Federal workspaces encourage innovation such as the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new Innovation Suite. Private rooms for meetings or occasionally working on projects are important, but the area where the employee spends the majority of his or her time is what will usually determine the level of collaboration.

There are several basic workspace situations that are most commonly associated with innovative workspaces. Consider combinations of quiet rooms for employees to work in a distraction free environment and open lay outs with natural sunlight.

Open Floor Plans – No walls, no desks, just tables for workstations and a wide, open floor plan. This is one of the most popular workspaces used by cutting edge companies that seek to liberate their employees and encourage innovation and collaboration.

Telework – While at first glance telework may seem isolating, that is not necessarily the case. Teleworking helps to create an environment that is conducive to innovation. Employees can still collaborate through messaging systems and mobile devices. Also, a split schedule that allows the employee to telework several days a week and be onsite the remaining days provides them with a well-rounded work experience.

Shared Workspace – This type of workspace is not new, but it is recently enjoying a surge of popularity, especially within the Federal Government. Employees share a workstation and alternate days with working at the workstation and working via telework. This dramatically cuts down on costs, reduces necessary office space, and offers a greener option with numerous positive environmental benefits.

A workspace that encourages innovation is more than just a few tables and chairs; it is more than just a few policies. An innovative workspace is the culmination of a well thought out, extensively planned, and meticulously executed strategy.

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