How Much Space Do We Really Need?

How Much Space Do We Really Need?

Originally published in High-Profile Monthly. By Dianne Dunnell, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, interior design director and associate partner at Margulies Perruzzi Architects

September 25, 2017 – Workplace strategy focuses on marrying three important aspects of the modern workplace: 1) applying better space utilization metrics; 2) optimizing real estate costs; and 3) updating an office space to meet current trends in design and technology. Factoring in employee satisfaction and a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent, there is a clear business objective to creating a work environment that inspires, motivates, and connects employees.

As how we work evolves to include greater collaboration, technology, and mobility, the design — and size — of the workplace is changing, and companies are increasingly asking “How much space do we really need?” The trend in space utilization indicates that 40% of an office’s individual work spaces are used at any given time, leaving 60% of space vacant due to meetings, travel, and rotating schedules. Companies are thus responding by reducing the ratio of square footage per person while enhancing collaboration space and amenities.

Determining a company’s space needs should involve more than just looking at employee headcount. In addition to business drivers, a company’s work culture and use of technology will help to define needed square footage. Keep in mind that the workplace a company designs today must support its workforce of the future. It is important to first conduct a discovery process to identify a company’s purpose, business drivers, culture, and ways of working. Provide employees with opportunities to prioritize what settings will support their work needs and create a workplace with the right mix of spaces.

A successful workplace strategy should prepare for evolving workplace trends and space planning models, including high-performance workplace and activity-based design. These two planning models demand different workspace requirements that are outlined below, in addition to common areas such as reception, café/lunch room, and a quiet room. In general, with a decrease in workstation and office sizes and number, an increase in collaboration space, conference rooms, and amenity space is necessary.

Today’s common planning model, high-performance workplace (HPW), is characterized by open office space with assigned seating and a fixed private office-to-workstation ratio. Workstations are clustered into neighborhoods, and the space has designated zones for high collaboration, meetings, and quiet work. Typically, there is one size each for offices and workstations throughout the space.

An example high-performance workplace that provides 20% of the space for offices, 27 workstations (6’x7’), four phone rooms, and four conference rooms would require approximately 7,900rsf. The ratio would thus be 197sf/person.

An emerging planning model, activity-based work (ABW) design, creates a balanced variety of communal workspaces that correspond to the type of work performed throughout the day. Rather than assigning traditional work settings to employees, this model anticipates that employees will choose for themselves work areas that suit their needs for a particular task or day. This model offers typically unassigned workstations for quiet, heads-down work. Activity-based work design moves an office from individual space to “we” space.

An example space designed with the ABW model, leveraging the same head count and support space program as noted in the HPW planning model, would require 6,660rsf. The ratio, without considering a remote work program, would be 166sf/person.

One size does not fit all. A company may implement a mostly HPW and use the ABW model for select departments or teams. More than 50% of companies are also providing remote working options. A conservative mobile work ratio would reflect 1:1.3 seats to people. A more aggressive goal, where 70% to 90% of staff are mobile, would lean toward a 1:4 or 1:5 ratio.

So how much space do you need? While a HPW averages 150sf to 200sf/person, some firms that embrace technology and activity-based work can achieve less than 100sf/person. The key is to select the right planning model that best fits your future, not current, office needs, based on industry sector. Leveraging digital storage and mobile devices, and following space-sharing strategies, may allow employees to work more efficiently and possibly reduce an office footprint by 50%.

Thoughtful space utilization analysis and design execution will yield a more successful workplace result. View MPA’s workplace strategy video series (or read the full report) at:

About the author
Dianne Dunnell, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, is the interior design director and an associate partner at Margulies Perruzzi Architects. Consistently ranked as one of Boston’s top architectural and interior design firms, Margulies Perruzzi Architects services the corporate, professional services, research and development, real estate, and healthcare communities. For more information, please visit