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“Shrinking” Office Space: Why the Workplace is Getting Smaller

There is one recent trend in business culture that is particularly notable and carries several sweeping implications, which is the trend toward the “shrinking” of office spaces.

Shrinking Office Space - architectual building model

Looking Back

According to an article published by the LA Times, American employers once calculated anywhere between 500 and 700 square feet of office space per each individual employee.  In contrast, and more recently, most employees specify a range closer to an average of 200 square feet.  These figures encompass floor space that isn’t specifically assigned to an employee, such as lunch areas and conference rooms.

A reduction of 500-300 square feet since the 1970’s seems not so drastic until you consider this wasn’t a gradual progression. Rather, things changed suddenly for the corporate low- to mid-level employee, reflecting an eminent change in the dominant paradigm of the time. Certainly, not all of these changes spoke to the standard drivers which one would expect – cost cutting, space saving, and adjustments to the given economic situation – though many do; the other considerations at play are markedly more interesting. According to Office Snapshots, many businesses have “been quietly moving to a more collaborative office culture” – one that has been only anecdotally concerned with – “the side benefit of space savings.”

Catching Up

While the reviewed data on the subject of reduced workplace quarters is quite retrospective, this trend has proved steadfast.  Looking ahead, we can expect to see the average individual office spaces contracting even more – down to 151 square feet per worker by 2017 – or evaporating altogether.

The notion of no office space at all may seem almost absurd to a more traditionally minded businessperson, but studies clearly demonstrate younger generations roundly prefer — and are significantly more productive in — collaboratively designed shared spaces. Naturally, there are some who find that the downsides, such as lack of privacy and inability to ensure confidentially with one’s own clients, simply aren’t worth the trade off.

Clean modern desk with laptop

Now Then…

In the end, the most pertinent question for the informed executive is always this: What can we expect around the bend?

The answer is an indelible trend toward coworking office spaces and community-driven coworking centers, and not only for professionals in all walks of trade, as many coworking spaces come fully equipped to host executive suites. These spaces have evolved rapidly in recent years and are now, by and large, available for both individual needs as well as entire company-leased sections.

This is perhaps one of the most innovative leaps forward for companies looking to expand their in-house employee talent throughout the country without having to actually open a new location.

According to data accumulated by the NAIOP – the Commercial Real Estate Development Association: “In 2005, there was only one coworking space in the U.S. By 2013, they had mushroomed to more than 3,000 worldwide.” And now? By the end of this year there will be over 10,000 registered and running coworking spaces in the U.S. alone.

The collaborative workspace may not be the answer to the needs of every professional, but the bottom line is this: The clever executive can always find an opportunity to apply trend-savvy knowledge to strategic advantage.

Fred Coon, CEO

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