2020.05.27: What if the Offices Stay Empty?

Original article published on Linkedin by Dustin Lanier, CPPO

CONDUCTING REAL PROCUREMENT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT - As government operations continue to be performed with part or all of the staff working from home, the question arises: “What if the offices stay empty?” 

When I asked a state CPO about it, she said “We’re virtual for good – but we are deciding who's going back to water the plants.”

It is legitimate to ask: could procurement stay virtual?

The start of summer allows government workers with children at home to continue to juggle work and motivate children with limited social outlets. But what if the school bell doesn’t ring in August? It will be increasingly difficult to reestablish a full workforce in the office if systems that let people go to work don't also start. It also begs the simple question: why?

A procurement shop does not inherently require an in-person presence to serve a citizen, like a police station or a hospital. There is an opportunity to deeply rethink our traditional protocols and have procurement transform in place. 

There are process, people, and infrastructure that make this New Normal possible:


"Print it and Route it" has to stop: End to end electronic requisition routing is a current imperative. Online case portals can be temporarily retrofit, or worst case group email routing can be temporary stopgaps, but printing requisitions to route and review must end.

Acceptance of electronic records as an equivalent must happen: Our belief that paper is the legal document of record leads inevitably to paper submissions, notarized documents, physical bid openings, and blue ink signatures. Let’s make the changes to put our electronic assets at the same level, then extend that equivalency into our civil procedure and code.

Moving the Commonplace Online: While Zoom and Teams are now ubiquitous, they are helping procurement replace the external interactions of the job. Virtual bid openings, oral presentations, negotiations, and appeal hearings are all being tested. Procurement should be practicing these interactions to learn how to succeed as a team in this new mode of work.


Job definition and work traceability become urgent: When our staff is distributed, clearly defining what each job is expected to do, and knowing how to track the throughput of work becomes incredibly important. Team leads have to depend on line staff to make regular forward progress in outputs and outcomes, and confirmation of this can’t be a cubicle walk. 

True Onboarding, not just learning by doing: While some procurement organizations have invested in onboarding training, there is just as often the “cobbler’s children” syndrome of lack of internal focus with an assumption that leads can train new employees. Virtual hiring and onboarding will require better learning aides and creative “virtual shadowing.”

Team building has to be the new placemaking. While team-building exercises can be panned as feel-good exercises, there is a real need for maintaining social connection and team strength when working through screens. This involves both full team meetings, as well as short standup calls to maintain connection and morale.


Long term staff infrastructure: Staff has been generally supported in the home, at least in the short term - laptops, phones, routed calls. However, what if the employee bought the lowest tier of wifi for the home, but the job requires broadband; what happens? What about ergonomics? Consumables? Electricity? These topics will soon press to the forefront.

Procurement and asset management must be deeply synchronized: If you order 6 million surgical gloves, how many pallets is that exactly? If you said 110, you would be right. Whereas procurement in the past could order and assume receipt and storage space and move ahead, now the game has changed. The need for real-time clarity and reporting between procurement and asset management has never been greater.

The changing need for staff facilities – Walk into a typical US procurement organization in the country, and you will be greeted by paper bid rooms that are bigger than the breakroom, and rows and rows of cubicles. The private sector has adopted “hoteling” office plans for at least a subset of their space, which can be checked out like conference rooms. While a radical transition for procurement, rethinking the use of our footprint would contribute to a larger conversation about the cost of our owned and leased space.

Our workforce going more virtual is one of the many factors that have to be considered in planning and designing for the "New Normal".