We’ve heard a lot over the past year about the shrinking office. Not necessarily so, according to experts in space utilization and planning at JLL Project and Development Services (PDS) in Boston.
While some companies are definitely seeking to reduce their space, many are simply swapping “me” space for “we” space. Individual footprints are smaller, but spaces devoted to common, collaborative, and clients are increasing, thus reversing the percentages allocated to each.
For one international high-tech client where JLL has managed several construction and relocation projects, the amount of space they formerly had was approximately 70% employee allocated and 30% customer/collaborative. Their new space in Cambridge is exactly the opposite in allocation, but the total space remains consistent.
One prominent financial services client is experiencing the same shift. Others are paring back to the bare minimum of open and common corridor circulation spaces while maintaining collaborative and functional employee work areas.
Still, in their efforts to reduce costs, space remains high on the list of targets. According to a CoreNet Global survey, space allocation has gone from 500 square feet per person in 1975 to 200 square feet per person in 2010, and is predicted to be at 100 square feet per person in 2017. This survey also quotes square footage per person shrinking 25% from 2010 to 2012. Most at least address the issue of shrinking their overall footprint during the planning process, whether or not the overall space really shrinks.
Most of our clients are hovering between 150-180 square feet per person. We are finding a lot of companies who like the idea of better utilization, using shared space or “flex time” concepts to reduce the number of seats they need for the same number of people.” Some of our clients are moving to a 3:1 ratio of seats to employees, and are still evaluating if it’s working. Technology, while advancing, still doesn’t allow for the amount of control over reserving and managing adjacencies in flex space, for example. “Free reservation” or sitting at any open seat for one’s time in the office, is still more the norm. A seat is always available, but not always near the people a flex worker needs to interact with at key times in the office setting.
These trends have created new problems, and also new opportunities. Furniture manufacturers are responding with solutions that fit smaller individual workspaces, such as “benching” and furniture suited for collaborative areas, and the resurgence of workstations that allow adjustability for seated and standing work.
[pullquote]‘We’ space may be great, but let’s not lose site of the importance of ‘me’ space as well. Some people and some tasks do require more concentration. While interaction is good, a decent percentage of time in the office is taken up with nonwork-related conversation and distractions.[/pullquote]Architectural firms and consultants have moved beyond the space to offer “change management” services. Sometimes the message of the shrinking individual workspace is better received coming from a third party with a broader view of the world.
Change management is really communication. The message is somewhat softened, but the real driver is cost. Companies who understand how to deliver this message in a positive way are a welcome addition to the project team. Still, project managers bear a large part of the burden in delivering the message of change, given their intensely intricate involvement with the client population.
The level of openness and transparency creates a lot of life in the space. Companies are pushing the envelope and trying to see how much flexibility and openness is too much.” But the new generation of workers tolerates a lot more openness and a wider variety of space; in fact, they embrace it. According to one of our clients: “I am typically in the office on somewhat untraditional hours, and at 11 PM I want to sit on a couch and work.” We believe that the variety of space available for work is inspirational.
Other behavioral changes are taking place. Some companies have found that they have to create and monitor behavior and “office etiquette” differently. Another JLL client found they had to remove the opaque film from office fronts because people were using them as “permanent” spaces instead of temporary huddle or team rooms. And some companies are handing out headsets in an effort to help distracted open office workers to focus on their tasks at hand.
“ ‘We’ space may be great, but let’s not lose site of the importance of ‘me’ space as well. Some people and some tasks do require more concentration. While interaction is good, a decent percentage of time in the office is taken up with nonwork-related conversation and distractions.”
And some firms are not following the trend. JLL sees their many law firm clients resisting. The dark wood is largely gone, and there are fewer secretaries to partners, but the private offices are still there. ‘Hard-core’ engineers are still in private offices – some as small as 6 x 8, but with walls and a door.
A lot falls on designers to create space with new parameters, changing expectations and multiple generations. Productivity, and non-productivity, can happen anywhere. It’s about a host of factors beyond square feet per person.