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How Much Office Space Per Employee Do You Need?

April 9, 2020 | by
Reviewed by real estate expert Jonathan Wasserstrum

One of the lesser known challenges of running a business – one that often gets lost among the many other responsibilities related to delivering goods and services, dealing with financials, human resources, etc. – is providing a great workplace that meets the many needs of your employees.

If your company is looking for new office space to take your business into the future, there is a lot for you to consider. From searching for commercial real estate that is actually in your budget to designing a perfect layout that meets the business’s requirements to function optimally, it is a process that demands a thoughtful approach.

There are plenty of office design decisions to be made in terms of furniture style, colors, branding, and atmosphere, but typically the first and one of the most important decisions that has to be made as you embark on a new office search is how much square footage is needed to accommodate your staff.

But how do you make this determination? An especially effective way to figure this out is to decide how much office space per employee is required.

Challenges to figuring office space per person

If your company has a workplace layout in which most employees are spending the majority of their time in designated workstation cubicles, deciding on the amount of office space per staff member needed is a bit easier. In that case, you have a fairly clear sense of how much square footage each person is occupying based on the footprint of the cubicle spaces.

More difficult is figuring out sq ft per person for companies that prefer a more flexible, open space layout for their office. If it is still rows of desks (just minus the partitions that come with cubicles), then you may be able to get a fairly clear sense of approximately how much space each employee is occupying.

However, in some modern offices, employees barely use desks at all, favoring chairs and sofas that are provided throughout the office space instead. In such an unconventional arrangement, it can be especially challenging to calculate how much office space per person is being used.

Taking common areas into account

Whether your preferred office environment is one with cubicles or one that is open plan, there is still the additional hurdle of factoring in common areas. Obviously, employees don’t remain literally stuck to their workspaces all day, so the square footage per person calculation must also take into account that employees use hallways, bathrooms, the kitchen, recreation spaces, and eating areas as well.

Conference rooms are one of these common areas too. Do you need a lot of conference rooms? Do you frequently hold meetings at your company? Is it mostly just leaders in those meetings, or are there many large staff gatherings? If employees are likely to be spending quite a bit of time in conference rooms or meeting areas, that should have an impact on the office space per person calculation.

Determining the amount of office space per employee needed

As you can see, this isn’t as straightforward as you might like. Given that working out how much square footage is needed per employee is not necessarily an intuitive calculation, it’s worth turning to statistics to use as a guiding point. In 2012, CoreNet Global data showed it being 176 square feet per employee in North America, down from 225 square feet per person in 2010. Reflecting the downward trend of providing less square footage per person, Statista reports that in 2017 the average office in the Americas allocated approximately 138 square feet (12.8 square meters) per person.

In the era of COVID-19, these standards have changed to accommodate social distancing measures and workplace safety guidelines. Many firms are decreasing their in-office maximum capacities in order to address employee health concerns, thereby increasing the average square footage allocated per employee. In determining how much space you’ll need for adequate social distancing, you’ll need to consider:

  • How many employees are interested in returning to the office on either a part-time or full-time basis. This will inform how much workspace (i.e. cubicles, open desk seating, or private offices) you need. You’ll also need to decide whether you will hot-desk or have dedicated desks for each employee. If you choose to hot-desk, you will likely need less space.
  • How much space you will need such that social distancing guidelines can be followed in shared areas, such as passageways, kitchens, and restrooms. You will likely want to base this off your expected daily office capacity.

Every company will have its own criteria regarding how much space employees will need in their workplace, but these figures and considerations should provide some guidance on how to choose a figure to work with. So, say you settle on having 150 square feet of office space per worker. You can now take that number and multiply it by the number of people who work in your organization. If, for instance, you have 70 employees, you will be searching for an office that is at least 10,500 square feet. There are a variety of tools on the market to help you devise an office layout that is compliant with COVID guidelines. At SquareFoot, we offer a service that can help you plan a return to the office.

Don’t forget about the executives

While some very equality-minded CEOs and other executives might sit in the “bull pen” with the rest of the staff, at most companies the executives tend to have their own private individual offices. If some people are going to have separate offices or larger workspaces, they should be removed from the main calculation above. Instead, calculate their square footage separately, and then add it to the other total.

This same idea can apply to some other “unique” employees as well. For instance, you may have a large reception area where only one person sits, but that includes more square footage to accommodate resources utilized by the receptionist.

The ideal metric for your office search

Once you have determined what your office space per employee figure is, you will find that this is a very helpful and straightforward variable to utilize during your office space search. When you are looking for the best office arrangement, you may tour numerous office spaces of varying sizes, rent costs, lease lengths, and so on.

When trying to compare which office is offering you the most bang for your buck in terms of rental costs and square footage, it’s helpful to have a metric like square footage per person that you can look at side-by-side to see how much space each location gives you and at what cost.

Still too much math?

Some people – quite understandably – hate having to deal with these kinds of calculations. If you would rather focus more on the features of each office space you tour, then consider finding a commercial real estate broker to help out. While you attend to the details that interest you most, your SquareFoot broker can help work out useful figures like office space per employee, and then show you how each office space compares.

How Can We Help?

SquareFoot is a new kind of commercial real estate company. Our easy-to-use technology and responsive team of real estate professionals delivers the most transparent, flexible experience in the market. Get in touch to start your search today.

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