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New Ways of Working

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Creating robust civic workplaces by the people, for the people.
Barb Anderson Kerlin 600×600
Barb Anderson-Kerlin
Senior Project Manager
Washington, D.C.
JessCollins2022 600×600
Jessica Collins
Senior Project Interior Designer
Margaret McDonald 2022 Square 600×600
Margaret McDonald
Marketing Principal
St. Louis
Creating robust civic workplaces by the people, for the people.

Government workplaces are more than just bricks and mortar. They are the physical embodiment of our democratic principles and civic values. These buildings and the public servants who work within them allow us to maintain the fabric of our society. We need to design effective, high-performance workplaces that help them carry out their vital work.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-office government work remains in flux. Based on HOK’s survey of Canadian and U.S. government agencies conducted in March 2024, 80% of respondents shared that they primarily work remotely, coming into an office one or two days per pay period. The remaining 20% followed a hybrid schedule with two to three days per week in the office.

Governments around the world are looking to move the needle and boost in-office attendance. In 2023, the Canadian government mandated that federal employees work in the office at least two days per week. Similarly, the U.K.’s Cabinet Office notified its departments that office-based workers should spend at least 60% of their work week in-person.

In the U.S., a recent report from the Public Buildings Reform Board found that federal agencies are using just 12% of the space in their headquarters buildings. The White House is requiring these agencies to provide updates and actionable steps to bring employees back to the workplace. Congress is currently reviewing the SHOW UP and USE IT Acts, which aim to reinstate pre-pandemic telework policies and mandate in-office work for federal workers (SHOW UP) and track office usage and reduce an agency’s space if utilization rates are below 60% (USE IT).

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HOK works with all levels of government around the world to design cost-effective, sustainable and modern workplaces that increase productivity and support the health and well-being of their occupants.

Sustainability at the Forefront

Our government clients recognize the importance of resilient buildings that can stand the test of time. Eighty percent of HOK’s government survey respondents shared that they either plan to pursue LEED certification on future projects or incorporate LEED principles into their projects, even if not seeking certification.

In Ottawa, an HOK-WSP joint venture named CENTRUS is leading the expansion, conservation and rehabilitation of the Centre Block and sections of Parliament Hill, to meet the contemporary requirements of the Parliament of Canada. The work includes upgrades to address seismic integrity, physical security, accessibility and sustainability, and the renewal of all base building systems, accommodations and building finishes.

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The Parliament Welcome Centre, the new underground entrance to Centre Block, increases accessibility...

An expansion of Centre Block is an integral part of this project. The new, underground Parliament Welcome Centre will provide security and scanning facilities, and welcome visitors to Parliament with a strong sense of place and orientation for all. Linked to the Parliamentary Triad, the Parliament Welcome Centre will also provide accommodation for Senate and House of Commons activities, as well as material handling functions.

The project is targeting LEED Gold certification, features a carbon neutral design and will be WELL ready. CENTRUS is reducing the building’s energy consumption by at least 75% and water consumption by more than 35%. The team is also using sustainable materials tracking tools to select healthy, ethically sourced materials at Centre Block.

In the U.S., the General Services Administration’s Design Excellence Program sets the standard for designing high-quality, sustainable civic buildings. HOK and Trivers are partnering on a Design Excellence project to transform the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse in Salt Lake City. The project is seismically upgrading, renovating and backfilling the historic courthouse into a modern and resilient workplace for more than a dozen federal agencies.

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The building is targeting LEED Gold certification and will use 50% less energy and 30% less water than a similar-sized building. By using existing materials and showcasing the building’s historic aspects (including crown molding, lighting fixtures and more), the project reduces embodied carbon by 59% compared a new construction.

State and local governments also value sustainable design. The 10th and O State Office Building in Sacramento houses California’s legislative and executive elected officials. This all-electric, net-zero energy and net-zero carbon emissions facility has achieved LEED-NC Platinum certification.

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The state office building has a unique partnership with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for off-site renewable power generation. TV monitors in the lobby show 10th and O’s real-time energy use and renewable energy performance data and sustainability strategies incorporated in the design. The building also features all LED lighting and EV-charging stations.

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Increasing Productivity and Connections

Inclusive design is crucial to creating high-performance workplaces. Neurodiverse-friendly workplaces empower employees to choose how and where they work in the office based on the task at hand.

HOK and Trivers are modernizing the Major General Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis—the second-largest government building behind the Pentagon. This Design Excellence project is backfilling more than 200,000 square feet of office space for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Office of the Inspector General and the Technology Services Organization.

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HOK developed a ‘neurozone’ concept for this federal center focused on flexibility. The concept creates a range of workplace environments with varied lighting levels, colors, textures and materials to fit different employee needs. Focused spaces feature calm colors and floor patterns, while collaboration zones include vibrant wallcoverings and bright furnishings. Modular furniture, sit-to-stand desks and mountable walls let employees adapt the space as needed.

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In the U.K., HOK has designed flexible workspaces for multiple central government departments and UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body. These offices include two floors with a blend of highly adaptable spaces that support connections and collaboration. Quiet rooms and telephone booths facilitate heads-down work, while a central social hub, collaboration benches and high-back booths provide areas for staff to gather.

Similarly, at Centre Block, CENTRUS has designed spaces to accommodate numerous reconfigurations to cater to various worker needs and programming functions. The team is also targeting Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification to enhance access and mobility for all users of Centre Block.

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Government workplaces often have siloed layouts for security reasons. When feasible, however, open floor plan like those designed at the Bean Federal Center (left image below) can create clear paths of circulation and support employee camaraderie.

At the Moss Courthouse, the design team removed walls separating public and tenant office spaces, extending the workplace and promoting transparency throughout the facility. A flexible conference space on the fourth floor (right image below) is accessible to building tenants and the public.

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Promoting Health and Well-Being

Good workplace design prioritizes the health and comfort of building occupants, including employees and visitors. Incorporating biophilia, natural light, calming design elements and useful amenities can boost the overall well-being of those who use the space. Our government clients also understand this importance, with 60% of survey respondents planning to pursue a well-being certification for future projects.

In Austin, Texas, HOK is designing two new offices buildings as part of the Texas Capitol Complex expansion. Floor-to-ceiling windows will fill the workplaces with daylight that supports natural circadian rhythms. Likewise, at the Moss Courthouse, clerestory windows and skylights will bring natural light into the building.

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Outdoor terraces at the Bean Federal Center and the 10th and O Street Office Building (left) connect people to nature and provide places for respite. As part of the Texas Capitol Complex project, HOK is expanding the pedestrian mall (shown below), creating additional greenspace for government employees and the public to enjoy.

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Calming design elements can alleviate stressful workplace situations. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ offices within the Moss Courthouse feature natural colors and textures to support workers and clients. A gathering area for visitors provides a place for family and friends to reconnect.

Elevated amenities can enhance government workers’ quality of life. An art gallery within the Moss Courthouse celebrates community and supports wayfinding. The building also includes showers, indoor bicycle parking, bottle filler stations, gender neutral restrooms and lactation/wellness rooms. A ‘main street’ within the Bean Federal Center’s first floor features a market, café and hair salon for employees.

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Why We Must Innovate

Security and budget constraints create unique challenges for government workplaces. But innovative design can help overcome these obstacles.

At Centre Block, seismic upgrades, as well as new building and digital systems, will make the civic complex more secure for the future. The Moss Courthouse faced similar challenges, being the most at-risk facility in the GSA’s portfolio due to its unreinforced masonry construction and proximity to the Wasatch fault zone. To address this, the project team designed a “building within a building” that meets the latest Federal Earthquake Risk Management Standard.

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The Moss Courthouse renovation is also cost-effective for the government. By adaptively reusing and backfilling the courthouse for federal agencies previously housed elsewhere, the federal government expects to save up to $6 million annually in lease costs. Based on our findings and current low office utilization rates, we expect to see more backfill and consolidation projects like this in the future. In our government agency workplace survey, all respondents noted that they aim to reduce their overall square footage, with 80% planning to consolidate locations.

Promoting inter-departmental collaboration is another crucial aspect of innovative design. The UK Research & Innovation’s HOK-designed offices for various research councils and organizations exemplify this approach, creating workplaces that allow ideas and innovation to flourish.

Building a Thriving Civic Workplace

Civic buildings play an important role in shaping society. They represent the spaces and places where life-changing ideas are born and significant policy decisions are made. The responsibility falls on designers, government officials and other decision-makers to create environments that are innovative, collaborative and forward-thinking.

By adopting workplace design elements that prioritize sustainability, productivity and well-being, government agencies can develop dynamic work environments that instill pride in their employees and create a profound impact on the public good.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about how HOK can transform your government agency’s workplace, please reach out to:

Barb Anderson-Kerlin
Senior Project Manager – Washington, D.C.

Jessica Collins
Senior Project Interior Designer – Dallas

Margaret McDonald
Marketing Principal – St. Louis

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