Both government operations and the physical offices supporting them have entered a new era. Governments will be expected to lead on net zero carbon strategies, and their security approaches are evolving to incorporate measures to anticipate and survive climate change events. With walk-in services going virtual and workers embracing hybrid office strategies, many government agencies will downsize offices and rethink how they allocate real estate in order to provide communities with critical services in more equitable ways.
Among walk-in services where governments have traditionally had in-person contact with the public — think permit reviews, driver’s license renewals, and even social services such as counseling — hybrid and virtual models are taking hold. Governments are reimagining the workplaces that provide such services and reducing office square footage. As this trend plays out, equity concerns will be paramount, as virtual services enhance convenience but risk excluding citizens without technology access.
State, federal, and local governments are diving into a concerted review of their true square footage requirements. Governments have traditionally adopted conservative real estate strategies, but now many are embracing hybrid work environments. Many agencies are moving forward with renovations, lease renewals, and new office construction under the assumption that fewer workers will occupy the office full time in the future.
Increasing numbers of data breaches and more incidents of domestic political unrest will significantly affect the security infrastructure of government buildings. Design will play a key role in maintaining the balance between openness and security, promoting safety and democratic values. Vehicle barriers can take the form of well-designed benches, other street furniture, and landscape features, which can enhance the public realm. Crowd control barriers can be designed as easily erected elements that interrupt access only when needed.
Government facilities have an opportunity to lead on environmentally conscious design and construction, such as mass timber, and many have begun funneling investments in this direction. Businesses and nonprofits will look to governments to “walk the talk” on carbon reduction commitments, and to make green designs publicly visible. Extreme weather events will continue to threaten operations continuity, requiring resilient designs that can adapt to rising waters, high winds, the disruption of energy grids, and other emergencies. Governments that remain operational in times of crisis will gain public trust and, ultimately, save lives.
In addition to accommodating business offices, governments have started to rethink the use of public property to include space for housing and other social needs, often via public-private partnerships. On the local level, awareness is growing around the importance of locating resources close to the people who need them; successful implementation of the 20-minute city concept will therefore include ready access to government services.
“We must balance security and openness to keep our public buildings public, and not close them off from the people they serve.”