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Workplace trends in office space: implications for future office demand

Norm G. Miller (Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, University of San Diego, San Diego, California, USA)

Journal of Corporate Real Estate

ISSN: 1463-001X

Article publication date: 2 September 2014




This study aims to examine the trends in space per office worker and the influence of a number of factors on the ability to reduce space per worker. These trends are important in that they impact future office demand along with property values.


Using both survey and empirical data a simulation model is used to examine the impact on space per worker over the course of a typical lease. Factors considered include the length of lease, the worker growth rate of the firm, turnover and time to fill positions, the type of organizational management hierarchy, whether dedicated or non-dedicated space is utilized and firm policies toward working out of the traditional office.


Space per worker will continue to decline over time, yet collaborative work environments and the effects of traditional management and cultural momentum suggest that downsizing will take time. Counter to the initial hypothesis, growing tenants do not over-consume space in the early years but rather tend to renegotiate leases when growth spurs the need for more space.

Research limitations/implications

It appears that modest economic growth is sufficient to offset downsizing trends, but some markets will be more affected than others. Portfolios dominated by larger than average tenants or U.S. Federal Government tenants will be affected much sooner by downsizing efforts compared to smaller private sector tenants. The mix of occupant types and age also matters, and this study does not delve into significant occupant-type differences by market. This study also does not directly consider design influences on productivity other than those mentioned through surveys: natural light, air quality, temperature control, noise and the presence of collaborative space.

Practical implications

Forecasters of office space demand must input an estimate of the growth in professional employment and then apply a space per worker assumption. This assumption in most markets will be declining, by as much as 30 per cent over several years. Washington DC is already being affected by downsizing, yet most markets with reasonably good economic growth will be able to offset most of this transition to more intensively used space.

Social implications

Much of the existing stock needs to be rebuilt. Much of how the authors work and where is changing. This requires new perspectives on how productivity is measured and how remote workers are measured.


This is the first paper to try and reconcile the views of commercial real estate owners and operators with those of corporate space planners, both of who have opposite sides of the same lease. It is also the first to point out the explicit reasons why downsizing efforts are sometimes not as effective as expected.



G. Miller, N. (2014), "Workplace trends in office space: implications for future office demand", Journal of Corporate Real Estate, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 159-181.



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