Magazine for Senior Financial Executives: Space invaders

Space invaders

Joseph McCafferty

IT’S NOT JUST MARTHA STEWART WHO is feeling a little confined these days. A report by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), released earlier this year, shows that workspace is shrinking.

The space for general clerical staffers decreased from an average of 73 square feet in 1997 to 66 square feet in 2002, slightly larger than an 8′ x 8′ cubicle. Shari Epstein, associate director of research at the IFMA, says that floor space per person is continuing to drop. Companies are also favoring open floor plans and cubicles over offices. “The walls are coming down,” says Epstein.

The driving force behind the trend is cost reduction. Higher real estate prices have kept some companies from moving to larger facilities even as they add employees. “Reducing the space requirements per associate means adding savings to the facility’s bottom line,” says Tim McGlothlin, executive director of the Ergonomics Center of North Carolina in Raleigh.

Senior-level executives are also seeing their offices shrink. “Big, lavish office suites are less common for key executives,” says Epstein. In fact, top managers have lost 17 percent of their space, with the average size of an executive office reduced to 239 square feet in 2002 from 289 square feet in 1994, according to the study.

When Compuware Corp. moved its Detroit headquarters–home to roughly 4,100 workers–to a state-of-the-art facility, the software provider moved team managers from private offices to 8′ x 8′ cubicles. Larry Fees, vice president of facilities and administration, says the move was intended to encourage managers to interact more with their reports. “We wanted to involve managers more with their staff,” he says. Many of those staff members actually gained a little footage, since their cubicles increased to 8′ x 8′ from 6′ x 8′ The company also added more community areas, including living room-like areas with soft furniture intended to be used for downtime and informal meetings.

It’s clear that tiny cubicles are here to stay. But less is not necessarily more, says McGlothlin. “Less space per associate means less privacy and more distractions,” he says. That could translate into lower productivity and more human error. Just ask Dilbert.


LRN finds that 87% of business leaders think most of the 1,00 largest U.S. firms operate honestly. Only 31% of the public agree.

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