In the Modern Workplace, Individual Space Squeezed to Help the Common Good

March 22, 2007
IFMA report reveals snapshot of trends in workspace management

The notion that workspaces have been shrinking throughout the years is no illusion. In 1987, the space allocated to an executive office was an average of 291 square feet; today, that figure is down to 241. That size sounds lavish compared to today’s senior professional, who must make do with about 98 square feet, or the call center employee who is typically assigned around 50. Predictably, the vast majority of workers toil in cubicles (59 percent), while 7 percent work in open areas with no partitions. Surprisingly, only 34 percent have private offices.

According to a recent report, Space and Project Management Benchmarks, Research Report #28, produced by the Intl. Facility Management Association (IFMA), Dallas, this shrinking trend has leveled off, with relatively little change since 2002. There are a few perspectives on why this is, according to IFMA members.

“There has been a strong overall trend to reduce square footage and most companies that had the opportunity, through drivers such as relocations or major reorganizations, have taken advantage of this,” says Melodee Wagen, president at Workspace Strategies Inc. in Lexington, MA. “However, space reduction can only be taken to a certain point and have the individual workspace remain functional. In many situations, the square footage per person hasn’t gone down as much, but the ratio of individual space to collaborative and common space has changed.”

As Vida Reid, facilities manager at Healthcare Management Partners in Santa Ana, CA, bluntly puts it, “I believe some of the slowdown can be contributed to a new sense of usable space by the employee. You can only take away so much room to work [until] they begin to feel like cattle.”
Judicious Distribution of Collaborative Space Expands
One category that is growing, however, is collaborative space and amenities. Since 2002, the amount of space devoted to conference, training, and break-out areas has increased by more than 17 percent. Workers have also benefited by gaining access to expanded amenity areas such as cafeterias, fitness facilities, and daycare centers.

“The expansion of collaborative space has been driven both by management’s desire for increased teamwork, but also forced by the reduction of individual workspace and the trend away from private offices,” Wagen says. “If we can’t meet in an individual workspace, whether open or private, then we have to go somewhere - hence the rise in collaborative space.”

“How people share information is ‘how-to learning,’ and information networks within an organization happen through casual interaction,” says Ellen Keable, national workplace specialist with Jacobs Advance Planning Group in Amherst, NY. “The paths workers take to and from their desks for coffee or to make copies become opportunities to share information. Space can either help with fostering this interaction or get in the way - and you want to help. To achieve this, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there needs to be more space, but it should be judiciously distributed to encourage people to have a conversation.”

An expanded view of what constitutes a workspace also appeals to a new generation of worker. “As more individuals have choices about working in ‘third places’ such as the local coffee shop or at home, the idea that an organization can provide some of those casual spaces, supported by technology, make the organization more appealing to the younger generation of workers whose expectations of choice and freedom to work are different from the boomer generation,” says Barbara Armstrong, principal/corporate team leader at Kahler Slater Architects Inc. in Milwaukee, WI.

With the trend toward shrinking individual space, it’s difficult to store everything. Despite the movement toward a paperless office, space devoted to storage, records, and libraries has increased by 25 percent. According to Reid, “As much as the paperless world is desired, there will always be a need for the hard copy - at least for several more decades. Again, depending on the environment, personal space is used for personal items, snacks, and entertainment gear.”

Expansion Plans
Despite the movement to home offices and virtual work, there are more people than ever working in buildings. Survey results indicate 41 percent of reporting organizations are planning expansion. Hospitals and clinics, energy companies, educational institutions, airports, and multi-residential facilities, such as retirement housing and dormitories, are some of the industries planning to build or lease more space. Industries planning to downsize space include aircraft and industrial equipment, computer, and motor vehicle manufacturers.

Space and Project Management Benchmarks, Research Report #28, expands on the information described here, outlining the latest trends related to space planning and utilization, office moves, and project management. Such content is integral for facility management professionals as they plan office spaces. IFMA conducted this survey of its members in the second half of 2006. Space and Project Management Benchmarks, Research Report #28, is available for purchase online in the IFMA Bookstore at (

This information was provided by the Intl. Facility Management Association (IFMA), the largest and most widely recognized professional association for facility management, supporting more than 18,500 members. For more information, visit (

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