Office Space Abounds, But Workers Not Seeing Benefits

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Extra space around the office doesn’t necessarily mean additional workspace for you. That is the conclusion of a new International Facility Management Association research report entitled “Space and Project Management Benchmarks.” The report provides information on current costs and best practices associated with office space, office moves, furniture acquisition, and project management.

“Space and Project Management Benchmarks” includes workplace space allocation information for a variety of industries, position titles, and facility types based on hundreds of responses from facility professionals throughout the United States. It offers the latest data on space per person; workstation size; conference, support, and amenity space allocation; move and furniture costs; and more. The report was produced in conjunction with architectural firm HOK and the Corporate Facilities Council of IFMA.

“The report paints a picture of what facility professionals are dealing with in using office space, as recent economic challenges have forced them to allocate the space they have more wisely and efficiently,” said Francis J. Kuhn, CFM, CFMJ, chair of IFMA’s board of directors. “While trying to maintain a flexible and productive workplace, many are increasing the amount of collaborative space, adding more desirable amenities, and working with the office space they’ve got until the economic picture stabilizes.”

The new research shows that office space is not as densely packed as it used to be. This year’s findings show an overall 5% increase in vacancy rates (unoccupied space available for use divided by total area) and a 3% drop in workstation utilization (total number of workspaces occupied divided by total number available) compared to 2007. Every single industry category experienced a decrease in occupancy since 2007 — except the federal government.

But extra space does not mean individual workers are benefiting from larger offices. Companies enjoy, on average, 295 square feet of assignable space per worker. Yet, the senior professional or technical professional — positions indicative of the average worker — are allocated only 95 square feet and 75 square feet of individual workspace, respectively. Middle managers fair only slightly better, at 120 square feet.

The trend over the past two decades has been toward smaller individual workstations. However, factors such as layoffs and stagnant hiring due to the troubled economy, more people working off site, and the growth of collaborative space may actually mask this trend, elevating the total amount of space per person available throughout the office. Additional factors such as a change in culture driven by a younger workforce, an increase in the number of companies offering workspace not assigned to any one individual, and new technology such as flat screens that require less desk space further reinforce this trend.

Where is the extra space going? Conference rooms, storage space, amenities such as fitness and day care facilities, and empty, unused workstations are the most common examples. Faced with an ongoing economic downturn, many offices have been described as ghost towns, with empty cubicles becoming increasingly common.

“Over the past decade, senior level managers have given up a lot of space, mostly to accommodate additional collaborative space. Many have surrendered their large private offices entirely,” said Angie Earlywine, senior workplace strategist for HOK. “That trend is leveling off. Today, we’re seeing cutbacks — albeit smaller ones — more frequently in space allocated to mid-level and support staff. The only areas in which we’re still seeing overall adds to space are in collaborative and multi-functional spaces.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, only 30% of respondents anticipate the need for more space in the years to come, down from 41% in 2007. While this signals expected growth, it does so at a more restrained and conservative pace than in the recent past. Office moves, measured by churn rate (the number of people getting moved in the course of a year) have also decreased since 2007. This, too, is likely another indication of less office activity and a desire to minimize moving costs.

The full “Space and Project Management Benchmarks” research report is available for purchase online. Members of the media may request a review copy at no cost.

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