The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has approved a "concept design" for its Washington headquarters. Walls and doors are being kept to a minimum.
Featuring an open-floor layout with internal stairways connecting floors, a lobby where visitors can "learn about being educated financial consumers," and few private offices, the design for the offices at 1700 G St. N.W. reflects "the principles of openness and collaboration," according to an email sent to CFPB staff on Friday.
Although there will be private conference rooms and work spaces — about 200 in total for the seven-story building — even CFPB executives will work in "open spaces," the email says.
Gauging CFPB staff sentiment about the new design was complicated by the holidays. But one employee argued that the timing of the announcement — near the close of business on the Friday before a major holiday — suggested that the bureau expects the plans to be unpopular with employees who were expecting private offices.
"Things that drop at 5 p.m. on Friday before a holiday are things that people don't want you to see," says the CFPB employee, who asked to remain anonymous. "While most of us have been hanging on for the proper offices they've been promising, it now seems that they plan for CFPB to be some sort of New Age commune."
CFPB spokeswoman Michelle Person wrote in an email that the redesign would unify all of the CFPB's Washington staff in one building "in a way that maximizes resources while recognizing the need for private space that can be used when needed."
Opened in 2010 without an office, the CFPB has worked out of scattered locations over the last couple of years. But it inherited the 300,000-square-foot offices of the now-defunct Office of Thrift Supervision and is consolidating its Washington operations there.
The bureau has not yet produced a detailed plan for the office layout. But in its email to employees, the bureau cast its shared-space approach as forward-thinking and cost-effective.
"The open office layout is the future of office design," the email states. The General Services Administration "is promoting open layouts as a way to reduce the cost to the government of real estate and to promote efficiency."
According to the CFPB email, the bureau and the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will be meeting over the next four to six weeks "to determine specific office placement and to flesh out some of the details of the common spaces."
The CFPB would not make renderings of the design available to American Banker, though its email includes a notice that pictures of the building's planned design are available in a sixth-floor common area.
In her email, the CFPB's Person wrote that the planning for the office redesign continues. "The memo sent to staff was intended as an update on this progress."
Although open-floor offices are common in some parts of the corporate world (American Banker's New York newsroom among them), the CFPB employee who shared the plans says they were likely to be perceived as cheap or chintzy by lawyers accustomed to private work space.
"It's one thing to get people coming straight out of college, who aren't accustomed to an office culture," this person says. But midcareer government employees "are going to leave."
For those without an attachment to private office space, the redesigned headquarters will offer some perks, including a lunchroom, gym, library, conference center, new courtyard, and childcare.
After initially operating out of offices spread around Washington, CFPB staff moved into the former headquarters of the OTS early this year.
The planned redesign marks a departure from the mazelike style of the OTS, says Thomas Day, a former managing director at the OTS' risk management division.
"The prior space left a visitor feeling as if they had visited a tomb, or an appropriately moldy 'old school' government agency," says Day, now a senior director at Moody's Analytics.