Workspaces

How much office space do I need for my team?

Jun 30, 2020
Determining the right amount of office space for your team is hard. Here's a guide to making the best choice for your business — and your team.

Determining the right amount of office space for your team is hard — even when there isn’t a global pandemic taking place.

 

With considerations about cost, square footage needs and, now, health and safety concerns related to COVID-19, choosing the right office space for your team requires careful thought. 

 

Below, we’ll dig into what type of office space — and how much of it — makes the most sense for your team and your business. This guide includes:

 

How we use office space to work

Thanks in large part to advances in computer technology, the internet and the arrival of flex spaces, the ways we work — and the spaces where we choose to do that work — have noticeably shifted over the last few decades.

 

This shift has led many businesses to steadily move away from traditional lease structures and “one-size-fits-all” spaces to find custom solutions to meet their exact needs.

 

Ultimately, the type of office space a team needs depends heavily on the type of work they do and what function they need their space to play.

 

For smaller teams doing focused, heads-down work, small office studios or private suites filled with workstations may make the most sense. Whereas a team that thrives on collaboration and dialogue may prefer a larger, more open shared space with diverse furniture settings where it’s easy to connect with colleagues. 

 

Of course, cost and location are crucial considerations. With the advent of flex space — including coworking spaces — and flexible leases, businesses can now have the best of both worlds: strategically located office space — like a small amount of office space in a dense urban center — with satellite offices in more affordable locations for innovation labs or specific teams.

 

This dual approach has other benefits as well. JLL finds that COVID-19 has forced employers to embrace these types of multi-location and dual-hub strategies to help employees minimize their risk of infection by avoiding long commutes on public transit to work in dense shared environments.

How much office space is needed per person?

Due to innovations that have made tech more compact (think laptops vs. desktop computers), the amount of allocated space per employee has steadily decreased over the last fifty years. As workers, we just don’t take up as much room as we used to. For instance, the L-shaped cubicle desk, designed to accommodate a large computer monitor in the corner, has been replaced by linear “bench” desks with flat screen monitors.

 

This means that employers have been able to fit more people into less space — a workplace phenomenon often referred to as "densification."

 

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Today, the industry standard for office space hovers around 120-150 usable square feet per employee, down from over 200 a short time ago. This number is somewhat of a moving target: in recent years, square footage has been increasing to allow for more amenity space in the office, and this trend may continue, for other reasons, in the wake of COVID-19. We certainly expect offices to be less people-dense once workers begin returning from a period of remote work.

 

So, how much office space you need per employee depends on a number of factors: the unique functional needs of your team, if any, the work they are doing, and, now, how to practically maintain appropriate distance between employees for health and safety reasons.

How COVID-19 is impacting office space needs

COVID-19 has disrupted everything about how and where we work, with major implications both now and in the future.

 

This is having an enormous impact on how businesses are approaching their space needs and prioritizing things like cleanliness, HVAC systems and air circulation and appropriate distance between employees. 

 

Here are three key ways COVID-19 is affecting office space needs:

 

  1. Keeping workers separated by shift-work schedules: An office that could house every employee under the same roof while abiding by distancing guidelines would require more space than most companies have available. So, many companies reopening their offices have done so by using alternating attendance strategies to keep office density low on any given day. At Hana, we have asked clients to consider shift-schedules where employees are assigned to an alternating schedule in order to prioritize health and safety.

  2. A growing demand for — and acceptance of — remote work: COVID-19 has propelled remote work to new levels, and many companies are reporting an uptick in productivity despite fears of the opposite.

    And what’s more, employees are liking the benefits of working remotely. One key question that businesses are now asking is “How many people actually need to be in the office?” The general consensus is that working remotely is here to stay — and that means that we will likely see less routine occupancy in offices across the board.

  3. The metrics may reflect businesses taking more square footage, when they really are taking less: Even though it is likely that more people will be telecommuting more moving forward, more space for fewer people in the office setting makes sense in the COVID-19 world. Square footage per desk will increase as new distancing-compliant designs are rolled out, while square footage per person (and, total square footage) may actually decrease as more people utilize the same space, by simply not coming to the office every day.

The pros and cons of open-plan offices

All this begs the question, where does today’s workplace uncertainty leave the ever-embattled open-plan office?

 

The original intent of open-plan offices — to remove the barriers that divide workers (while also optimizing square footage per employee) — flies in the face of everything we’ve been told about preventing the spread of COVID-19.

 

This leads some to argue that the open-plan office may actually be dangerous during a pandemic. But as JLL reports, the open office is ubiquitous: “As of the first quarter of 2020, 70 percent of all office spaces were primarily or partially open plan in design.”

 

Given that a vast majority of our offices are open plan, it looks like this hotly debated layout isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. According to Bloomberg CityLab, “organizations are now trying to reconfigure existing spaces...and a pivot to walls is probably still a long way away.”

 

Since that is more than likely the case, let’s take a look at pros and cons of the open-plan office layout:

 

The advantages of open-office workspaces:

 

      • Easier communication and collaboration: The open nature of this layout lends itself well to cross-team collaboration, impromptu conversations and regular face-to-face contact with colleagues.

      • Lower occupancy costs: Fewer walls, dividers and private offices means that setting up an open office requires less construction and build-out costs than other types of offices.

      • Increased oversight: With employees out in the open, it is easier for management to monitor performance and provide motivation in real-time.

      • More natural light: Given the lack of barriers, open office layouts in buildings with windows tend to enjoy better access to natural light, a top workplace perk.

The negatives of open-office workspaces:

 

      • More noise: Given that office noise is one of the most common workplace complaints, one of the top critiques of open-plan offices is that they are too loud.

      • Less privacy: Even though sitting out in the open can have its advantages, it leaves workers without dedicated space for uninterrupted heads-down work or a true space to call their own.

      • More distractions: Without barriers, it’s hard for people to set up boundaries. If you’ve ever had a coworker approach you when you’re in the middle of a task, you know how frustrating these interruptions can be. That’s because it can take as long as 23 minutes for employees to get back on track.

      • Increased risk of germs: For many of us, COVID-19 has been a crash-course in the spread of disease. There is no question that sitting in an open space in close proximity to others increases your risk of exposure to germs, making open offices riskier than other office settings.

What office layout is best for my team?

The best office layout for your team is the one that complements — and doesn’t hinder — the way they work.

 

Depending on the needs of your team and the culture of your office, there are many different office layouts to choose from:

  • Open and semi-open layouts for teams that prefer more opportunities to work together;

  • Flex spaces (including coworking spaces) for agile companies looking to grow or independent contractors;

  • Closed offices and private suites for teams that need more privacy, like those in finance, law or healthcare.

When selecting office space for your team, it is important to plan for any expected future growth. Using online space calculators, like the CBRE Agile Lease Calculator or CBRE Spacer, you can estimate future headcount needs to help you figure out just how much space you’ll need for your team, both now and in the future. 

 

Many businesses are flocking to flex spaces since it’s easy to add more space as they need to, and they can avoid getting locked into a space that may not work for them down the road.

 

Regardless of what type of office layout you choose, the aim in any office space today is to reduce simultaneous density and let people spread out, especially in light of how effectively the virus has been shown to spread in packed office environments.

 

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How can your team be inspired by their office?

Even though there are many office layouts to choose from and an infinite number of ways to configure an office, only some designs inspire productivity.

 

First, as we’ve seen, you should make sure that the office you choose is the right space for your team based on the kind of work they are doing.

 

Second, don’t ignore design, aesthetics and perks. When it comes to workplace design, people want more options, not fewer, and layouts that prioritize health and safety.

 

The top perks that employees are after include natural light, quiet and private spaces, ergonomic furniture and the flexibility to move around. The best offices, flex and coworking spaces are placing a premium on providing these amenities, and more, in an effort to boost inspiration and productivity.

Take this with you

In the end, the question “how much space do I need for my team?” can’t be answered without first asking, and answering, “what kind of space do I need for my team?” — open offices, hybrid spaces and coworking spaces all make excellent options depending on the needs and culture of your company.

 

When it comes to giving employees in the office the space they need, industry standards suggest that 120-150 usable square feet per employee is appropriate. The impact of COVID-19, however, suggests that maybe more space per desk will be necessary in the future to keep employees safe and healthy.

 

 

 

Learn more about the importance people place on meaningful connection at the office in our latest report, COVID-19 is accelerating the demand for flexibility and meaningful connection.

 

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