2.09.2011

The incredible shrinking American office cubicle

Feeling a little cramped at work? According to the International Facility Management Association, the average American office worker had 90 square feet of work space in 1994, but by 2010, that same worker was down to just 75 square feet of personal space in which to stretch out on the job.

Nor are office drones the only casualty of this spacial downsizing trend. Senior company officials have seen their offices shrink as well, from an average of 115 square feet in 1994 to 96 square feet in 2010. The shrinking workplace is yet another cost-cutting measure that employers have pursued for years under the theory that smaller workstations are cheaper to maintain to especially as commercial rents spiral upward.

The same quest for space-based cost-reduction is what gave us the cubicle in the first place. But some business thinkers point out that there's a bright side to the inhospitable cubicle; with technological breakthroughs enhancing worker mobility, employees can spend more time working outside of the cramped confines of their workspaces.

Last month, for example, the New York Times profiled tech giant Intel's revamped work spaces, as a strategically planned effort to "inject a little more fun into [Intel's] offices" and "make them places where employees can be more collaborative."
"To promote innovation, Intel wanted to create plenty of space where people could work in groups, rather than be isolated at their desks," the Times' Kristina Shevory wrote. "One newly redesigned floor of Intel's campus can now accommodate 1,000 people, up from 600. Of course, some office habitues aren't contending with a space scarcity on the job. The IFMA says that during that same 1994-2010 span, office space for senior company executives has actually increased, though at a rate well shy of the explosion of executive pay.

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