Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

What Does the Ideal Work Environment Look Like?

Image via EDHAR/

In the Young Leaders Panel, Government Executive editors pose a question about an issue affecting the federal workforce to a group of emergent leaders outside the federal community. The Coro™ Fellows Program in Public Affairs is an intensive, nine-month, full-time program that combines exposure to various industries with rigorous, hands-on training. The following responses come from four of the Fellows that make up the Coro Fellows 2013 class in St. Louis:

Question: Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator of the General Services Administration and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have something in common: They’re both proponents of “bullpen” office arrangements. In a bullpen, the chief executive and his/her deputies all sit in an open office space together, without walls, meant to facilitate rapid communication and collaboration. But it turns out this style isn’t for everyone. The candidates running to succeed Bloomberg want to do away with the system, saying not having individual offices makes it hard to focus on work. Clearly, there is no “right” way to arrange an office space, or a team, to facilitate collaboration. Whether it’s physical arrangements, alterations to organizational charts or flexible work schedules, managers are constantly fine-tuning the office paradigm to get the most out of their organizations. How should leaders find and implement a workplace model that satisfies individual needs for autonomy while ensuring increased collaboration and communication within the organization?

The following responses come from four fellows that make up the Coro St. Louis 2013 class.

Know Your Employees

As a leader in any organization, your first role in creating a productive workplace is to know your employees. A conversation needs to be had to find out individuals’ and departments’ needs and ticks.  Once this chain of communication has been started, develop a means of sharing the responses you received anonymously so that everyone in the organization is aware of their fellow co-workers’ needs.  After the information is shared, consider implementing some of the suggestions and create open areas for teamwork to occur comfortably when collaboration is necessary.  Because productive and collaborative environments are important to every organization, plan to fine-tune the structure and workspace you have created later.  Keep an eye toward the effects that atmosphere has on the organization and make yourself available to hear the concerns of those around you.  Finally, always provide a system for feedback to be given by all--be sure it is received by those in position to act on responses. 

-- Meghan Jendusa (St. Louis, Mo.)

Play to Your Strengths

The balance between supporting individual workplace autonomy and facilitating employee collaboration and communication depends primarily on office culture, something that is generally management driven.  In my experience, employees will be more productive and collaborative in an office environment that fosters confidence. How you foster that confidence depends on your leadership style--there is certainly no "best" model. Instead, management should implement a model that is compatible with their leadership strengths.  Calls for increased collaboration or autonomy based on specific employee or project needs can be supported through office programming and performance expectations.  For example, management can foster employee autonomy by demanding high quality work and allowing employees to design a system for themselves that allows them to meet their performance commitments. Where autonomy detracts from face-to-face communication, managers can encourage regular meetings and social events that support and further collaborative communications. 

-- Susan DiSario (Carmel, Calif.)

Leadership as a Conversation

Leadership is about meeting the needs of the people who work for you and your organization. Leadership requires those in charge to make decisions--and not all decisions are going to accommodate the desires of everyone. Yet, it is essential that decisions meet the fundamental need of everyone to be heard. Implicit in this approach is the constant incorporation of questioning and feedback from management. While they ultimately make decisions alone, effective leaders cannot lead without successful incorporation of the input of those around them. Organizational structures and staffs change over time, so it is imperative to keep the lines of communication open. What works for staff during one year might not work for the collaborative efforts of a different group of people in another year. In making choices about where and how other people are going to work, the conversation should not be static and the decision cannot preempt talking to the actual people who will be affected. An organizational structure that values accountability and transparency in this way will ensure that employees have ownership in decisions, which in turn fosters good will.

-- Yaa Sarpong (Kumasi, Ghana)

Creating Adaptive Office Cultures

Flexibility is key to promoting office cultures that are receptive to diverse styles of work. Nurturing an environment that is responsive to different work habits allows communication and collaboration models to be tailored specifically to those doing the work. As a leader, it's important to be open to working with different styles and communicating in such a way that is clear and sufficient for each individual on your team. It is important that an employee understand the communication method you have set up and understands what flexibility exists for them within your office environment. Being a supportive leader helps open the line of communication, which in turn allows you to understand your team better. Underpinning the successful implementation of flexible work environments are measures to ensure trust and accountability.

-- Amanda Kosty (King City, Calif.)

Read the panel's previous response:

The Coro™ Fellows Program in Public Affairs is an intensive, nine-month, full-time program that combines exposure to various industries with rigorous, hands-on training. The program uses experiential learning; interviews with private, public and nonprofit decision-makers; and training in critical thinking, communication and project management. These 16 Fellows are participating in the program in St. Louis, where it is operated by FOCUS St. Louis. The program is also offered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Pittsburgh. 

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.