Office space is changing but not always shrinking, says Jones Lang LaSalle

by Shane Henson — March 8, 2013—The way businesses use office space is changing, but not necessarily shrinking to the extent that many people believe, according to experts in space utilization and planning at JLL Project and Development Services, a division of global professional services firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).

While some companies are definitely seeking to reduce their space, many are simply swapping “me” space for “we” space. Individual footprints are smaller, but spaces meant to be common, collaborative, or for clients are increasing, thus reversing the percentages allocated to each, explains JLL.

As an example, the company notes that for one international high-tech client for which JLL has managed several construction and relocation projects, the amount of space they formerly had was approximately 70 percent employee allocated and 30 percent customer/collaborative. Their new space in Cambridge is exactly the opposite in allocation, but the total space remains consistent.

One prominent financial services client is experiencing the same shift, JLL says. Others are paring back to the bare minimum of open and common corridor circulation spaces while maintaining collaborative and functional employee work areas.

Still, in their efforts to reduce costs, space remains high on the list of targets. According to a CoreNet Global survey, space allocation has gone from 500 square feet per person in 1975 to 200 square feet per person in 2010, and is predicted to be at 100 square feet per person in 2017, says JLL. This survey also quotes square footage per person shrinking 25 percent from 2010 to 2012. Most companies at least address the issue of shrinking their overall footprint during the planning process, whether or not the overall space really shrinks, says JLL.

These trends have created new problems, and also new opportunities. As JLL explains, furniture manufacturers are responding with solutions that fit smaller individual workspaces, such as “benching,” and furniture suited for collaborative areas. Also, there has been a resurgence of workstations that allow adjustability for seated and standing work.

The level of openness and transparency creates a lot of life in the space, notes JLL. Companies are pushing the envelope and trying to see how much flexibility and openness is too much. But the new generation of workers tolerates a lot more openness and a wider variety of space; in fact, they embrace it. Other behavioral changes are taking place as well, and some companies have found that they have to create and monitor behavior and “office etiquette” differently, such as handing out headsets to help distracted open office workers focus on the task at hand.

Of course, some firms are not following the trend. JLL says it sees their many law firm clients resisting. The dark wood is largely gone, and there are fewer secretaries to partners, but the private offices are still there. “Hard-core” engineers are still in private offices—some as small as 6 x 8, but with walls and a door.

A lot falls on designers to create space with new parameters, changing expectations and multiple generations, says JLL. Productivity and non-productivity can happen anywhere. It’s about a host of factors beyond square feet per person.