• Boston

How Much Office Space Do You Actually Need?

If you read enough commercial real estate news, you become immune to hearing discussions of this company taking 120,000 SF of space, or that company expanding from 40,000 to 60,000 SF.

But for startups or other companies without an experienced real estate team, getting perspective on the right amount of space can be a challenge.

The Basics – Headcount, Offices, Mobility

At a basic level, the calculations are relatively simple based on a company’s size and Headcount, Offices, Mobilitygrowth projections.

How many employees will be based at a particular location, and how might that number change in the coming years? How many private offices are needed? Are additional utility spaces needed?

Cushman & Wakefield’s Global Occupier Services team even has an online calculator, which includes market data from hundreds of cities globally.

Because workstations are only part of the picture, the tool also includes reception areas, operational spaces, and conference rooms to help create a full picture of what a company may want and need given their size.

The calculator even allows companies to see how different workplace concepts may affect their space needs. For example, in organizations where many employees are frequently traveling, it may not be necessary to have a 1:1 ratio of workstations and employees.

Going Beyond the Numbers

But to really understand how much space will be needed in the long-term, the questions shift from hard numbers to more ambiguous ones about a company’s culture. At that point, tenants may be best served by working with an architect to understand how they need to use their space to run their company and get a better conception of their true real estate needs.

“It’s important to not only ask how they want to use their future space, but to ask and observe how they use their current space,” says Gable Clarke, a Partner and Director of Interior Design at SGA in Boston. “Though many clients resist this because they don’t feel it reflects their ideal, it’s extremely helpful for us to see what isn’t working as much as it is to see what is working.”

As those discussions evolve, the amount of space that’s needed – and what it might be used for – can help further define a tenant’s needs. For example, if a company provides a catered lunch for employees or hosts frequent client meetings, a larger café space or additional meeting rooms may be appropriate.

Changing User Preferences

The industry-wide push toward more open workplaces is one of the most significant recent trends to impact workplace design, and the format does create benefits for many companies. However, not all open designs are created equal.

“Well-done open floor plans have a lot of attention to detail,” says Michael O’Leary, Managing Director at Cushman & Wakefield in Boston. “It’s not just putting desks in an empty room.”

In some situations, poorly-designed open plans may actually hinder the collaboration they intend to generate. Noisy layouts may simply encourage all employees to isolate themselves with headphones, and even drive some employees to work from home to minimize distractions.

When that happens, whatever space was “saved” through a higher level of employee density may now be wasted due to vacancy.

workplace strategies “The work spaces we find the most successful offer a variety of environments within the entire office floor plate vs. confining employees to their own workstation or office,” Clarke says. “Providing employees with choices allows them to find a setting to accommodate the type of work they’re doing at a particular time, or on a particular day.”

However, the greatest change architects and others are seeing in terms of design is the level of collaboration and choice corporate users are embracing.

Clarke notes that many companies looking at a new space are holding “envisioning sessions” to involve employees at large in the office design process. They’re also being more transparent, with continual updates on progress, along with post-occupancy surveys.

Those shifts help companies generate organic excitement and buy-in about a new space, which has benefits well beyond the move itself.

After all, an engaged and enthusiastic workforce is the best way to help ensure the project – and the company’s larger goals – will be a long-term success.

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