I Still Like My Big Window Office

by CoyDavidson on May 5, 2010

Five Workplace Trends

Those of us in the business of advising companies on leasing office space continually hear about shrinking office space demand and there is no doubt when it comes to the workplace, we live in an era of change. Most recently, companies have been aggressively looking for ways to shed excess space in response to the economic downturn.

However, economic conditions aside, there are other demographic, technological and cultural shifts impacting how much space companies need, overall design and when and how it is utilized.

1. Broad Based Workforce

Today the workforce is made up primarily of Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980) and Generation Y (1981-1991) and a new generation is on the way who many suggest will prefer to primarily work from home. This broad range of employee base, who all have different preferences in the where, how and when of the office space they work in, is creating the need for more diverse office layouts.

2. The Under Utilized Workspace

Employees increasingly work in other places than their dedicated office or cubicle. I have read various studies which indicate that employees work in their dedicated space in a range of 38-45% of the time. In today’s top performing companies, workers spend more time collaborating in team spaces, training rooms and informal conference areas. Today, many companies are designing office space to incorporate more informal meeting areas and open spaces organized around teams to improve collaboration.

3. Shrinking Workspaces

Since the early 80’s the size of a typical workstation has decreased 35-40%. The typical 80 square foot workstation has been replaced with the 48 square foot workstation. Also, we are also seeing managers with private office arrangements with smaller dedicated work areas. The 12×15 or 10×12 offices are being replaced with a 10×10 office or maybe even an 8×10 work area without a door.  Goldman Sachs was recently reported reducing its space per person from 228 to 178 square feet and placing mid-level executives in internal offices without windows in its move to their new New York headquarters building. These trends vary among industries and geographic regions. For example, working in the Houston office market, we have seen the energy industry move back towards the private office environment, but the emphasis is clearly on less space per employee for most companies.

4. The Mobil Workforce

Technology today allows for the increasing need of collaboration without being in the same location. E-mail, instant messaging, video conferencing and wireless broadband both from home and on your mobile phone make the virtual meeting possible anytime and anywhere. Recent studies indicate 29% of companies have mobile workplace strategies under consideration to reduce cost, increase productivity and reduce employee stress. In addition to reducing costs and attracting and retaining employees, mobile strategies are increasingly being looked at to reduce the overall carbon footprint.

5.  The Green Office

Sustainable design is now in vogue and many progressive companies and office building owners / developers are taking the initiative to seek varying levels of LEED status. Governmental agencies and the architectural community are focusing on the “green” office environment. This cultural shift has moved from the peripheral to mainstream and many progressive companies are embracing this initiative for economic and social reasons. There are some in our industry predicting the green office environment will eventually move from a voluntary initiative to government regulation. I tend to agree.

The death of office space is exaggerated

As my title suggests, I still like my big private window office where plenty of productive work still gets executed, but I must admit I work from a variety of places, at home on my laptop and from my iPhone, as I sit in a clients lobby waiting for a meeting. I remember 15 years ago when some predicted that the internet would drastically reduce the need for corporate office space.

There is no doubt technology has changed the way we work and the trend is more productivity with less space, but that change has been gradual. New technology, changing demographics and environmental initiatives are surely to impact office space demand, what office space looks like as well as how and when we use it. However, just like in recent history, while the change will be evident it will also be gradual and plenty of new office space will be built. There will be demand for newer greener buildings equipped with the latest technology infrastructure and high efficiency operating systems to serve the expanding service based economy.

I don’t argue the point we are going to see less big window private offices, more flexible work arrangements and the metric in terms of office space per headcount decline. On the other hand I don’t expect to wake up one morning five years from now and find half of the country’s office space vacant.

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