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How Much Office Space Do You Really Need?

October 3rd, 2022 | 7 min. read

How Much Office Space Do You Really Need?


VergeSense is the industry leader in providing enterprises with a true understanding of their occupancy and how their offices are actually being used.

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How much square footage a company needs for its office has always been a tricky question to answer. And now, with occupancy more unpredictable and inconsistent than ever before, optimizing for cost and experience has never been harder. 

Yet, thoughtful and intentional solutions are possible—specifically with insight into occupancy intelligence.

Occupancy Intelligence is how workplace, real estate, and facilities teams gain a true understanding of how and when their portfolio and spaces are actually used so they don’t have to compromise between reducing cost and improving employee experience in a world where occupancy is increasingly dynamic.

By analyzing real-time data and adjusting to changing employee needs, you can create a dynamic and agile workplace that utilizes your company’s space sustainably and cost-effectively.

Sounds great, right? How, then, do you get started?

Figure out the average office space needed per occupant

Adjust Your Method of Calculation

Previously, companies calculated the size of their office based on the number of employees. ˚They would multiply the number of employees by the number of square feet needed per individual to estimate how large their offices should be. 

But this calculation no longer works.

Today, you may employ a large number of people, but only 30% of your staff may come into the office at a time. Or you may have hired an entirely remote employee. Even more, entire teams may work offsite while others come in sporadically to connect and collaborate. A simple 1:1 ratio of desks to employees is no longer an accurate calculation for office space needs.

Instead, it is crucial to understand the average amount of space needed per occupant. If 70% of your staff is remote, it does not make sense to provide a desk for them in the office. Likewise, if someone only comes to work once or twice a week, hot desking might be a viable solution for them.

The Importance of Accurate Data

This is where it helps to have a data-driven, real-time view into each part of your office. For example, the VergeSense Occupancy Intelligence Platform can assess who, out of the 30% of your staff that comes into the office at once, uses which spaces most frequently. Are individual workstations or collaborative spaces more popular? You can even assess the difference between active and passive occupancy: Has someone sat down at a desk to work, or has he simply left his backpack there for the day? 

Effective technology and proper calculations are required to truly understand how an office is being used—and what needs to change. Let’s consider the question of enclosed spaces to see how this plays out.

Determine the size of enclosed spaces

Strategically thinking through enclosed spaces and collaborative workstations is imperative to meet changing employee needs. VergeSense found that the need for collaborative space has skyrocketed across companies of all kinds. In Q4 2019, office planners suggested you have one collaborative space for every six desks. As of Q3 in 2021, it is one collaborative space for every two desks.

That is a staggering change in office design. We can point to many reasons for this—the most obvious being that people are now accomplishing their focused, individual tasks at home and commuting into the office to work with their teams. Thus, the need for more collaborative spaces.

But how do you decide how many enclosed spaces (think huddle rooms, conference rooms, phone booths, training classrooms, etc.) to create? How big should they be?

Experimentation, Adjustment, Success

Experimentation is key to unlocking a true understanding of your spaces. Whether you’re experimenting in one building or one floor, you can make informed design choices with real data in a low risk, high reward environment.  This is especially helpful in a period of low workplace utilization, when many businesses need to produce a business case for what will have an impact, prior to a full-scale rollout. 

Download our free guide to learn about the basic principles of experimentation, as well as a series of recommended experiments for different workplace and real estate use cases. This guide also includes a template to help you run your own experiments.

Make workplace decisions with confidence, define your new standards, and bring employees back faster one experiment at a time.

Visualize the office layout to determine the amount of office space needed 

You have assessed how many occupants are regularly using the office. You have considered the number and size of enclosed spaces you will need. Now it is time to visualize the layout of your office.

It is essential to consider each department separately, as each will have different needs. According to a 2019 survey, 90% of professionals are more productive in workspaces designed with intentionality. Having their needs considered—and met—shows people that they are valued and seen by their company.

The layout, flow, and design affect how people feel and work in the space. Too loud and crowded results in little focused work being accomplished. Too serious and restricting, and creative problem solving and collaboration are hampered.

Your design team might need more collaborative, flexible spaces, while your legal team might need more private offices. Your receptionist might need extra chairs to accommodate waiting guests, while the executive assistant works fine in a cubicle outside the CEO’s office.

When visualizing how all the pieces of your office will fit together, here are some helpful averages for space allocation:

  • Individual spaces (1-2 occupants): 50 square feet per employee
  • Open Space Workstations (shared): 60 -110 square feet per employee
  • Huddle Rooms (2-6 occupants): 150 square feet per employee
  • Conference Rooms (6-20 occupants): 150-500 square feet
  • Lounge areas (5-20 occupants): 500+ square feet

Consider what other spaces your employees might benefit from. Quiet rooms, pods for nursing mothers, a cafeteria or coffee shop, lockers and storage, a bike room, and outdoor space all add value to your office.

The goal, however, is not to be the next cutting-edge tech campus. Instead, you aim to create a dynamic workplace that promotes productivity, fuels creativity, and truly fits your company’s needs.

How to design the right-sized workplace?

This is one of our favorite things to talk about. And research. And help companies problem solve. So, we’re glad you asked.

Right-sizing your office space is all about optimization. Your workspace should be dynamic and flexible, able to meet and adapt to the changing needs of its users. With fewer occupants in the office at any given time, it might feel tempting to downsize your square footage. But downsizing and right-sizing are not the same things.

Data gives you critical insight into how to best change your workplace size and layout. If you find employees are often double booking collaborative meeting rooms, you might consider repurposing a less popular area or even building out more space. On the flip side, perhaps you find that half a floor is hardly used. That data may trigger conversations about subleasing.

It is also essential to think beyond today. What will your company look like in five years? Ten years? How many employees do you hope to have? What would your ideal common spaces look like? Always keep future growth in mind. If you think you will grow quickly or significantly, adding 10-15% of extra space to your office plans today is wise.

Right-sizing your office is not a one-size-fits-all solution—and it’s not a magic-wand, finish-in-one-day situation either. Establishing a dynamic workplace is a process that takes intention and time—and continual monitoring and adjusting once it’s rolled out.

The challenge of space optimization

What are the risks associated with an unsuccessful space optimization strategy? Apart from a poor employee experience, wasted space can cost businesses in the US over $300,000 every year, and that's on the conservative side. 

To learn more about the true cost of wasted space and the steps you can take to optimize your spaces effectively, read "The True Cost of Wasted Space."