How to Determine How Much Office Space You Really Need

How to Determine How Much Office Space You Really Need
Picture of John Heimbigner

John Heimbigner

Small business owners face the same challenges no matter the industry. Razor-thin margins, acquiring innovative talent, and competition around staffing and space restrictions. And while solving your square footage issues may seem daunting, it’s easier to calculate just how much additional space you may need.

Whether you’re expanding into a neighboring office space or moving your whole operation to a new facility, this guide should help you finally determine just how much office space you’ll need to expand, grow, and keep your budget in line with expectations.

Identify Your Needs

There’s no exact formula used to calculate just how much space a company needs. While the general rule of thumb is 100 square feet per employee and 175-200 square feet for executives and leadership, you have to take into account your workplace culture and the industry you’re in. For example, if you’re operating in biotech, medical, or any other industry that requires large equipment, you’ll need considerably more space per employee than a software startup.

Most modern companies opt for an open-style office layout, which has its pros and cons. On one hand, having everyone within easy access is crucial to team cohesion, but employees who require focused, intensive work environments may need more private areas in which to buckle down and achieve their goals – which is where a space with more private offices (or the ability to convert them into focus/quiet rooms) could be beneficial.

And if your company routinely accepts packages, vendors, partners, clients, and customers, you’ll want an adequate reception area to greet them while separating your workforce from outside distractions. Most open-office spaces don’t have dedicated reception areas, so you’ll want to factor in the cost of a build-out compared to other spaces you have in mind.

Find Available Space

Now that you’ve identified your primary needs in a new office space, the search can begin. But you’re busy with running the day-to-day of your company, so enlisting a go-to within your company to liaison with your real estate broker is not only a great way to delegate this task, but to involve your workforce more intimately with the search process.

Ask your team to gather a current list of cubicles, desks, shared spaces, equipment, and decor based on your current square footage. Then, based on your projected hiring goals, multiply those to more accurately estimate how much space your company will require over the terms of a commercial real estate lease. Not only will this help you determine what type of office space you’ll need, it’ll help you in the lease negotiation phase if you’re not willing to sign a long-term commitment.

Remember: private bathrooms, kitchens, and reception areas can contribute to as much as 30% of your leased space, so if you’re seeking a great space on a budget, opting for shared or common facilities will save you a considerable amount of money over the terms of your lease agreement.

Think Beyond the Headcount

While every business owner looks at the bottom line when making an investment, the non-tangibles can have a strong impact on future successes. Happy employees – especially in the startup phase – can have a significant impact on productivity and output, so considering individual offices, additional parking spaces, kitchen space, or impressive views can cost you more, but provide extra benefits beyond the number on the monthly rent check.

Tips for Finding the Perfect Amount of Space for Your Business

You Don’t Actually Need as Much Space as You Might Think

Depending on what level of employees you plan to hire, you may not need quite as much space as you’d think. If you’re planning to add several executive or senior-level employees, larger, more private spaces that accommodate meetings may be required. But if you’re adding headcount in the open office space (or “bullpen”), you may only need 100-150 square feet per additional employee.

Don’t Forget Remote Workers

Depending on the culture of your company, you may not need to expand as dramatically as you’d imagined. Should things get crowded (as they likely are in your current space), giving workers the option to work from home on regularly scheduled days can have a huge impact on morale and productivity, freeing up desk space and avoiding overcrowding. Just because your next space will be larger doesn’t mean the square footage needs to accurately adhere to your headcount.

There are Plenty of Ways to Save Space

Lunch and break areas, parking spaces, kitchens, and meeting rooms don’t necessarily have to factor into the equation – as long as you have a thoughtful alternative. If you’re operating in a high-density area, there shouldn’t be a reason why employees can’t utilize shared spaces throughout the building, take small team meetings off-site to a coffee shop, commute using public transit, and use shared kitchens. Take that into account when considering multiple options for office space.

How to Determine Your Needs for Common/Shared Spaces

While every office layout is different, the basic needs (as far as square footage is concerned) are generally the same. As follows, these are some basic guidelines when calculating your needs for common or shared spaces within your new office:

  • -Conference/meeting rooms: 15-30 square feet per person
  • -Quiet/phone call rooms: 25 square feet per person
  • -Open space/quads/work group areas: 100-150 square feet per person
  • -Lunch/break areas: 15 square feet per person
  • -Restrooms: 30-55 square feet per person
  • -Reception: 75 square feet per person

Now that you’re equipped with a good idea of how much square footage you may need in a future office space, it’s time to dig deep and do your homework to determine the pain points in your current office space and consulting with your team to identify “must-haves” and “like-to-haves” before beginning your real estate search. While no two spaces are exactly alike, keeping an open, but realistic mind during the process will significantly improve your chances of finding the perfect office space for your company’s current – and future – needs.

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