Coworking or the Corner Office?

by CoyDavidson on May 21, 2012

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The Open Office Debate

There has been a tremendous of amount of commentary published over the last couple of years regarding the trend of shrinking office space allocations as more companies opt for open office space layouts designed for enhanced collaboration among employees.

I think it is pretty hard to refute that many companies are removing the walls and moving towards more open office environments, but the trend is certainly not universal among all industries.

A recent study conducted by CoreNet Global has predicted that office users will reduce the amount of space they allocate per person to an average of 151 square feet by 2017, compared to 176 square feet today, and 225 square feet in 2010. Today, just 24 percent of the respondents to the CoreNet Global study reported that the average space per office worker is 100 square feet or less; however, 40 percent reported that within five years, the average space per office worker would be 100 square feet or less.

There is more than one factor contributing to declining space allocations. Some of the trend is cost driven and the result of new technology that allows employees to work remotely. One of the most cited reasons for the trend of more open office space is to increase collaboration among employees by removing the cubicle walls.

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The Backlash … “Headphones are the New Wall”

We are beginning to see the early signs of grumbling from employees regarding the trend of open office environments. An article from the New York Times  recently summarized the growing backlash from employees regarding a lack of privacy and increased noise disruption from open office plans. The question remains if we will begin to see more backlash from employees regarding this new style of office design.

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There is also a misconception that opting for an open office space design automatically yields a significant reduction in the overall office space footprint. However, while an open space design can certainly pare down the footprint, in order for this approach to be truly effective in the objective of enhancing collaboration, requires an increase in the volume of community meeting space within the office. As a result, the overall office footprint is not reduced as dramatically as you might think.

Reality is Typically in the Middle of Two Extremes

Some in the commercial real estate world are of the opinion that the hoteling concept is inevitable and the workplace of the future will look dramatically different than it does today. In contrast, there is the opinion among some that the open office will not be as prevalent as predicted and this trend will lose steam.

How companies utilize their space is without question going to vary among industries. For example, in Houston where Energy is the dominant industry, the private office is considered an important recruiting tool and necessary for highly technical work. I have found in the past where there are two dramatically contrasting views of the future, that reality tends to end-up somewhere in the middle.

I predict that for many companies we will continue to see shrinking space allocations as the size of private offices will shrink and there will be more collaborative common workspace sprinkled throughout the floor plan. Senior and Middle Management will remain in private offices albeit smaller ones, but the days of 50 square feet per employee are nowhere in the immediate future for many organizations.

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