Office Spaces Are Shrinking

Sept. 27, 2004
Offices and workstations nationwide are being downsized, according to the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA). “Surveys of facility professionals in 1994, 1997 and 2002 show that the average amount of square footage allotted to each worker has decreased continuously,” report Amy Blanchett and Deborah Quinn Hensel of IFMA.Managers and professionals lost from 12 to 17 percent of their space over the eight-year period, most of it during the most recent five years since 1997. Clerical personnel lost 4-5 percent of their office space from 1994 to 2002.“The shrinking office is not a myth, but a reality and a clear sign of the economic times,” said IFMA president and CEO David J. Brady. “As companies have been forced to downsize their workforces and tighten their belts, many also have had to examine the productivity level and dollar value of each square foot of space they own.”Flat screens and smaller computers have reduced the need for deep desktops and corners, noted David Daugherty, executive vice president of Facility Matrix Group, a planning company in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Offices may be shrinking, but they are much more efficient, he said.Indeed, “small doesn’t have to mean inefficient,” points out IFMA member Eric Baugh, director of facilities for BAE Systems Mission Solutions in San Diego, Calif. “But the smaller the office, the more anxiety there is in the ergonomics of the space.” Studies do show that workers’ resistance to change tends to increase when they feel their needs are compromised to save money.On the other hand, employees tend to be fickle about their working conditions, judging from IFMA surveys (in 1991, 1997 and 2003) that record their most frequent office complaints. The top complaint is consistently about the office temperature (“too hot” or “too cold”). Other top ten complains include: poor janitorial service, not enough storage/filing space in one’s workstation, inadequate parking, and computer problems.None of the 2003 top ten identifies the workstation/office space as too small, although that concern did rank seventh in 1991. “Too noisy” and “no privacy” do rank among the top ten, however, suggesting to IFMA that these complains could be “both symptoms of office crowding.”Shrinking space certainly does have an effect, even if it can’t be traced directly to employee concerns over noise level, lack of privacy, or “poor indoor air quality” (which ranked sixth in 2003). Some who study office space say the trend toward smaller offices has long-term ramifications regarding air quality, ventilation, power needs, and even health.“There are three key areas to facilities management: people, process, and place,” notes Craig A. Steele, a facilities management professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “You cannot change one without having a significant effect on the others.”At the extreme, says David Fik, an interiors developer with Ideation, funded by furniture-maker Haworth Inc., steadily reducing workspace is “like packing a firecracker tighter and tighter. At a certain point you’re not going to be able to go any smaller.”SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE INCLUDE IFMA (WWW.IFMA.ORG), THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, AND THE DETROIT NEWS.

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