Property Paradox: Office Space Declines, Even As Companies Plan To Hire

Posted by Heidi Schwartzmarxbrothers

The average amount of space per office worker has dropped to 150 square feet or less, from 225 square feet in 2010, according to a recent global survey conducted by CoreNet Global, an association of corporate real estate managers at large companies throughout the world. The study is part of CoreNet Global’s ongoing advocacy of quality working environments and work experiences and the group’s call to action to measure quality of life per square foot.

At the same time, companies in the survey indicated that employment levels will increase in the second half of 2013, triggering a “property paradox” in which more workers are using less individual space.

The survey underscores how today’s increasing mix of workers in the office and teleworking, assigned to team and individual projects, along with the rapid emergence of space-on-demand, co-working and other ‘third places,’ is combining to enable the balance of less space per office worker while more jobs are added.

Nearly two-thirds of companies responding to the survey report the average space per person is currently 150 square feet or less. Slightly over half of the respondents project an average of 100 square feet or less per worker as the norm in five years.

A leading factor is the monumental shift among corporate offices toward open space floor plans with fewer assigned cubes and assigned individual offices. In the survey, more than 80% of the respondents said their company has moved in this direction.

However, that trend may be reaching an endpoint. In the survey, 43% of the respondents say that they now have more collaborative space than heads-down, private space where employees can focus. And that might be a problem: one-half of the respondents either agreed or said they were not sure if companies in general are over-building collaborative space at the expense of focus work and privacy (31% agreed; 19% not sure).

The survey reveals how more than two-thirds of companies have instituted integrated workplace strategies. Also in the survey, nearly 60% projected increases in employment at their companies during the second half of 2013, only 11% projected a decrease.

“Through this survey, and anecdotally, we are hearing of a ‘collaborative space bubble,'” said Richard Kadzis, vice president, strategic communications for CoreNet Global. “Just as we have escaped the ‘cube farms of Dilbertville,’ some employees may start to feel that the open-space pendulum has swung too far at the expense of a worker’s ability to concentrate without interruption or distraction.”

Multiple variables come into play, including the corporate brand, corporate culture, technological capabilities of the company, nature of the work performed, and cost.

“We advocate that corporate real estate and workplace executives approach workplace management as a holistic practice starting at the C-suite level,” Kadzis added. “Workplace strategy is no longer a singular function of real estate, but a product of taking into account the needs and demands of the business and how real estate should work with human resources, information technology, finance. and other support functions to support overall organizational planning,” Kadzis said.

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