Shrinking Office Space – Sacrifice or Opportunity?

In the 1970’s, American corporations typically thought they needed 500 to 700 sq. ft. per employee to build an effective office.1   Today, that’s about the size of an average urban condominium.   Now factor in rising real estate costs, increased globalization, wireless technology, economic austerity and the demand for a reduced environmental footprint, and space assignment has been pushed to a little more than 200 square feet per person. 1   And, in another 10 years, we could expect it to go down another 50 square feet to 150, according to Peter Miscovich, who studies workplace trends as a managing director at brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle.  The rate at which the modern office is changing is increasing exponentially,  “we’re at a very interesting inflection point in real estate history…the next 10 years will be very different than the last 30”, says Miscovich. 1

But less space doesn’t need to feel small. Today’s innovative design makes the most of shrinking footprints to benefit both the office worker and the bottom line. Here are some tips for getting more out of less space:


Reduce number of desks:

Companies that really want to reduce space are doing it by addressing the desk to employee ratio.  For example, a company with 100 employees can have only 60 to 80 assigned desks.2   How is this feasible? Because the reality is approximately 60 percent of a company’s desks are vacant at any one time, because workers are either on the road or in meetings, according to Core Net Global.3

Teknion’s Marketplace workbench provides support for touchdown workers

Adjust for technology:

Remember how big our computers used to be?  A lot of people are still sitting at worksurfaces designed to hold large, bulky computer monitors. Now that we have laptops and flat screens a lot of the work surface is under-utilized.  Accordingly we can reduce the depth of worksurface, with no impact to the employee.

In this digital age we generate less paper so our filing needs have also gone down. Smaller storage units within workstations, or even shared storage units are now feasible.


Rethink workspace design:

Consider a standard private office of 10×15 sq. ft. with a swinging door. Simply replacing the swinging door with a sliding door saves approximately 9 sq. ft. 4

Furniture with overlapping surfaces and under-surface storage make even more efficient use of space.  They provide more storage capacity while imparting a feeling of spaciousness.

Teknion’s District furniture utilizes overlapping worksurfaces to maximize space where you need it, like under your desk, and not where you don’t, like behind your monitor

Use furniture that can multi task. For example, storage units can double as space dividers in a workstation, and cushions on top of pedestals accommodate visitors.

Global Contract’s floorplay furniture utilizes shared storage as the spine of the workstations

As our workspaces continue to shrink, we will ask not “how can we get that space back”, but how can we use the space we have to its greatest potential.  Looking at the furniture options available today it is obvious that rising to the challenge of shrinking footprints have spurned innovation, and in so doing has ultimately made our workspaces better.


  1. Vincent, Roger, “Office walls are closing in on corporate workers”. LA Times December 15, 2010
  2. Sargent, Kay, IIDEX Cocreate Round Table Discussion. Toronto. September 2011.
  3. Shevory, Kristina, “Office Work Space is Shrinking, but That’s Not All Bad”. The New York Times, January 19, 2011
  4. Fleming, Darren, The Trend of Shrinking Office Space