Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

How the Economy is Remodeling Office Space

A few weeks ago, I was showing the former President of the San Francisco AIA Chapter around our offices. He has done design work for Google and other .coms. His first comment: “Wow, you guys have big offices.” They measure 162 square feet.

This got me thinking what future concepts in office space might look like. While the office market has shown modest signs of recovery in some major cities, vacancies still remain high in most markets. From what I can tell, this reflects employment trends and company’s views on growth. More importantly, it also reflects their attitude. Like everybody these days, we are all trying to get more done with less.

It seems companies are trimming their use of space even if they are not cutting jobs. We’re seeing smaller places.

This prompted a few questions of a colleague who designs and manages offices both in the U.S. and internationally. A few thoughts to share:

  • Densities are increasing. Space is trending from a high of 300–400 square feet per-seat to 100–175 square feet per-seat. Internationally it seems even less at 75-90 square feet per-seat.
  • Offices are more open. We’re seeing more open perimeters and natural lighting, and fewer hard walls. Stewart Perry incorporated all these elements in our design, and we have found it absolutely promotes a more friendly, relaxed work environment.
  • Modular office and office systems are popular. However, they come with challenges of privacy and price. There are more glass walls for sure, which is very open.
  • “Huddle rooms” are showing up. These have phones, seating for 2-6, flat screens and white boards. Huddle rooms are perfect for small conferences and brainstorming.
  • Furniture is becoming multi-functional. As an example, a file cabinet on wheels with a cushion top is also seat bench for someone to sit on when visiting.

To me, while some of these trends are more efficient, there are new lessons to be learned. For instance, how does one carry on phone conversation in these spaces? These new office designs will drive team members to be much more aware of others. There is a need to monitor conversations and volume. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but a change for folks who grew up studying in a library and not at home with the television/music/distractions.

How have your offices changed in the last few years? Are you planning a re-design?


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.