The Walls Come Down
More companies are shifting to open-plan o;ces, adding
amenities while reducing square footage. By Mariwyn Evans
If you’re sitting in a private o;ce reading this, you
may be a bit of a dinosaur.
A 2013 survey by CoreNet Global found that 81
percent of corporations have adopted an open-plan
o;ce. Such spaces usually feature wallless worksta-tions, lounges for collaboration, and amenities such
as a food court or foosball table. Once limited to
high-tech companies, these designs are now attracting lawyers, accountants, and even real estate firms.
While an open plan may be good for collaboration, it’s not so great for absorbing space. “One of
our large corporate clients just went to an open-plan
o;ce and was able to decrease its square footage by
20 percent, even though the common-area seating
increased by 200 percent,” says Richard Bernstein,
executive vice chairman and principal of commercial real estate services firm Cassidy Turley.
That’s typical: According to research by Cassidy
Turley—which includes both owner-occupied and
multitenant Class A and B buildings—average space
per worker dropped from 225 square feet in 2010 to
213 square feet today. Those figures may get even
smaller in the coming years, says Dr. Norm Miller,
professor at the University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. Miller has found that
companies signing new leases are going into smaller
spaces per worker than in their existing leases.
Why the Trend Has Traction
There are several key drivers behind this sea change
in workplace space. Saving money is the most obvi-
ous, but that’s only part of the equation, says Garrick
Brown, director of research at Cassidy Turley.
“If you look at the data, the trend toward open offices began before the economic downturn,” Brown
says. Ultimately, “technology is the linchpin of the
move to open o;ces,” Miller adds. As more data is
stored on shared servers and on the cloud, static and
wired connections become unnecessary.
Another big appeal is a more collaborative and creative work space. “Companies are truly realizing that
the quality of their work space is key to employee recruitment and retention,” says Brandon Fugal, executive vice president of Coldwell Banker Commercial
in Salt Lake City. And smart commercial real estate
companies are recognizing that having an open office themselves “mirrors their clients’ experience and
helps new clients visualize how their built space will
look,” says Jonathan Larsen, regional managing principal of Cassidy Turley’s Los Angeles o;ce.
Making an Open Space Work
What does a building need to lure companies seeking an open plan? First, amenities: Many buildings
are adding shared conference areas, recreation
rooms, gyms with showers, and quality food service.
“Companies are becoming more discriminating in
the amenities they expect. In many cases, they are
requiring landlords to provide them,” says Fugal.
Still, the more employees there are in an o;ce,
the more strain this puts on a building. The biggest
challenge is parking. “Three or four parking spaces
per thousand square feet isn’t going to cut it anymore,” says Andrew Cheney, ;;;;, ;;;;, a principal
with Lee & Associates in Phoenix. Buildings are
going to need five or six parking spots per thousand
square feet, especially in suburban areas without
good access to public transit. Some solutions: preferential parking for carpools, leased o;-site parking,
valet parking, and incentives to use public transit,
says Edward Schmidt, ;;;;, who heads NAI Miami.
For older buildings, it’s also critical to look at
HVAC capacity when evaluating whether they
Conversation With Kevin J. Thorpe on page 28 Commercial
BEFORE AFTER I When Cousins
Properties Inc. in Atlanta
renovated the lobby of a
1990s o;ce tower in Atlanta,
“the lobby seemed too large
and too empty. It [wasn’t
welcoming to] either workers
or visitors,” says development
manager Katherine Molyson.
To create “a more human
scale,” she adds, the company
added trees, installed atrium
patio seating, and put in a restaurant and a co;ee pavilion.
(See page 28.)