Andre Mendes, director of global operations for the Broadcasting Board of Governors
WASHINGTON — The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federally-funded organization that manages the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia, among other services, is responsible for creating more than 4,100 hours of original programming each week. Delivered in 61 languages, the BBG’s mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.
That takes more than a little office space, and the BBG recently found itself with an urgent need to bring more of its employees into its building on Independence Avenue near the U.S. Capitol. To make room for BBG staff shifting in from the Health & Human Services building next door, management is trying a new office scheme: wings full of low-rise cubicles instead of increasingly crowded offices that had been originally designed for a single person.
Starting Sept. 29, BBG begins to move into the first of the spaces to be completed, which will eventually house the organization’s Technology, Services & Innovation group. TSI provides IT and technology services for all the BBG’s many broadcast operations.
The renovated space has plenty of natural light.
The first person to make the move into the open-office cube farm is André Mendes, BBG’s director of global operations, who pointed out that the organization needs to house employees shifting in from other buildings, while at the same time cutting costs.
“This space went from 80 staff desks to 153 desks,” Mendes said, pointing at the first wing of the project to near completion.
The full project will encompass 34,000 square feet and will house hundreds of BBG, VoA, RFE, RFA employees and others in the organization’s international broadcast operations.
Cost savings come from seemingly innocuous places. Mendes said that employees are now located in a warren of offices, each with one or more printers. These printers, all of various makes and models, require $500,000 per year in cartridges. Since the new office space will have a handful of central printers, this will dramatically cut down on the complexity and cost of printing services ― and that’s just one form of cost savings.
Another result of groups of people crammed into separate offices is that there has been less staff interaction. That has serious consequences for BBG.
“Historically, this organization has one of the lowest morale ratings in the federal government,” Mendes said.
Bringing a large number of people into a shared, collaborative space is expected to improve teamwork and permit better sharing of ideas and the workload. Other employee-friendly features in the new space, such as treadmill workstations, stand-up desks and personal care rooms, should make the staff feel more appreciated.
Mendes explains the renovations planned for the next space.
Much of the staff involved with the initial move is from the organization’s IT group, so there has been considerable attention to networking and workstation capabilities. For a start, there will be no desktop PCs ― computers will all be laptops and tablets. For another, phone service will be provided by voice-over-IP, which means that an employee’s phone will be where ever the employee’s laptop is. And there will be plenty of networking capability.
“We are going to have a lot of wireless bandwidth in this space,” Mendes said.
The result is that BBG expects this renovation and move to save $2.6 million in fiscal year 2015, mostly in rent savings that the organization was paying for space in other buildings. Mendes noted that $2.6 million is the equivalent to four or five language services.
Mendes said that the staff response to the move has been mostly positive. Employee teams were responsible for choosing important features, such as chairs.