You must plan carefully when calculating how much office space you need. Too much — or too little — space can negatively impact your business budget. The wrong-sized space can interrupt business operations and create a disjointed atmosphere that adversely impacts productivity and communication. We’ll share tips for estimating and accurately determining the office space you need to help ensure a smooth and streamlined workplace.
Estimating the amount of space you’ll need
If you’re starting a business or planning to lease or buy office space, you’re likely concerned about how much space you need. While there are no definitive answers, there are some general guidelines to consider for an ideal office workflow:
- Plan enough space to move. It’s essential to have workrooms with enough free space for people to move and access their work areas with ease. It’s also essential for everyone’s health, safety and welfare that every room has sufficient height, floor space and unoccupied space.
- Allot enough working space per employee. On average, work areas should be at least 120 square feet per employee — possibly more, depending on the employee type and office layout. You want to provide a comfortable workspace and plenty of space to walk around. Sufficient space also makes keeping a clean and organized office easier. However, needs will vary by business and industry.
Your office environment affects productivity. Factors like decor, artificial lighting, noise and a less-than-ideal floor plan can affect mood, morale and motivation.
How to determine how much office space you need
Following these four steps to assess your office space needs accurately.
1. Assess your current employee situation when evaluating office space needs.
When searching for office space, ask several questions to determine how large or small a space you’ll need:
- How many employees do you currently have?
- How many will work in the office as full-time or part-time employees?
- If you have a remote work plan, how many employees will work remotely full-time?
- How many employees will have a hybrid schedule?
Your answers will tell you how many workstations you’ll need, whether they must be dedicated workstations, and if you can use shared workstations for employees who aren’t in the office every day.
Factor business accommodations for employees with disabilities into your space calculations. For example, you’ll need adequate space to accommodate wheelchairs or service animals.
2. Look at your growth plans when evaluating office space needs.
Once you have a handle on your current situation, consider business growth expectations for the next few years.
Estimate your business growth goals and determine how many new people you’ll need to hire to reach them. Can your current office space accommodate your projected employee headcount? If not, you’ll need to look for a new space when your lease ends or see if your current location has room for your company to expand.
Consider the following questions:
- Do I expect to add new staff during the current lease term?
- Over what period will I add staff?
- What kind of staff will I add (executive, administrative or sales)?
Understanding your anticipated growth plans will help you expand your business smoothly and conduct the hiring process without costly interruptions.
3. Determine an ideal layout for your office space.
Office spaces generally range from 120 to 350 square feet per employed person. During the initial planning process, assume you’ll need approximately 250 square feet per person. You can refine this number by narrowing your selections and laying out your space.
- Open office floor plan: If you want an open office floor plan, you’ll likely be at the lower end of the square footage range. An open office plan has no private offices. Call centers and sales offices generally use this configuration and have desks or workstations grouped together.
- Traditional office layout: The traditional hard-wall or private office layout is at the high end of the office space range. For example, law offices have almost all private offices, large conference rooms and support rooms like libraries, kitchens and file rooms.
You must determine the office layout that best suits your business: open space, private offices or a combination. After selecting a layout, you can accurately estimate the total space you’ll need during your lease.
Choose a document management system to streamline operations and reduce the amount of office space you need.
4. Factor in other variables when evaluating office space needs.
You’ll encounter many variables when evaluating office space needs. For example, some interior office areas may be unusable, or the building may offer amenities that compensate for a smaller space.
Here are other variables to consider:
- Is the office a pleasant space employees will enjoy coming to?
- Is there natural lighting?
- Is there ergonomic and comfortable office furniture?
- Is there adequate ventilation?
- Is the location near transportation options and areas where employees live?
- Can you create an office environment accessible to employees, customers and vendors with varying mobility aids like wheelchairs, walkers and canes?
After narrowing your building and office selection, a space planner or interior architect can help you design the perfect layout for your business.
Locating your office near convenient transportation hubs or areas where employees live can reduce workplace absenteeism and tardiness.
Example of office space calculation
Let’s say you currently employ 10 people and estimate needing approximately 2,500 square feet of office space. But you expect to add two new employees each year and want to sign a three-year lease. Do you need to secure an additional 1,500 square feet today to accommodate your growth plans?
Not necessarily. For a more accurate estimate, you must determine what type of employees you’ll add. For example:
- Senior executives: If you plan to bring on six senior executives who need private offices, you’ll need to add closer to 1,800 square feet (300 square feet x 6 executives = 1,800 square feet).
- Support staff: If you plan to hire six clerical support staff members operating in a “bullpen” or open space, you may only need an additional 900 square feet (150 square feet x 6 employees = 900 square feet).
Pros and cons of getting office space in the era of remote work
Before the pandemic, remote work was less common. However, today, millions of Americans enjoy working from home. In the Buffer 2023 State of Remote Work report, when asked what kind of remote work structure they would prefer, respondents reported the following:
- 71 percent preferred fully remote work
- 20 percent preferred hybrid and remote-first
- 6 percent preferred hybrid and office occasional
- 2 percent preferred hybrid and office-first with remote allowed
- 1 percent preferred fully office-based
Given the preference for remote work, does it make sense to secure office space? Here are some upsides and downsides to physical offices.
Pros of getting office space
- Office spaces look more professional. Companies with a physical office location look more professional to potential customers. It shows that the company is successful and established enough to afford office space. Going back to the law firm example, would you feel comfortable hiring a lawyer without an office?
- An office space gives customers a place to come. When seeing customers face-to-face, you’ll likely want to present a nice meeting place. In an office, customers can meet with you, examine products, and get a sense of your company’s capabilities.
- You can hold company functions in an office space. If your company is involved in manufacturing, assembly, storing or shipping products, you’ll need a physical space for these activities. Additionally, offices are helpful for employee meetings and collaboration.
- Office spaces support a cohesive company culture. Employees working together in one location feel more like a team working toward a common purpose with a strong company culture. It’s also easier to communicate shared company values and encourage teamwork when people are together.
Cons of getting office space
- Employees generally prefer remote work. Many employees prefer working remotely — at least most of the time. If your workforce is primarily millennials, this preference is even stronger. When you force employees to come into an office, they may become dissatisfied, and employee turnover may increase.
- Office space is expensive. The average cost of office space as of February 2023 was $38.28 per square foot. For a 2,500-square-foot office space, that amounts to a whopping $95,700 per month. If you could reduce this overhead cost, you’d have more money for expenses like marketing, payroll, inventory or the bottom line.
- Offices limit your workforce to locals. If you have an in-office mandate, the people you hire must live locally. Office spaces in areas with well-educated, professional residents tend to be more expensive. With a remote system, you can recruit the best employees, regardless of where they live, and you won’t have to pay office relocation expenses.
- Office spaces increase physical hazards. When you have an office, you may have workplace accidents. Additionally, sitting at a desk all day can increase physical ailments like eye strain and back strain, and can boost the risk of sedentary lifestyle dangers like heart disease.
Create an accurate estimate of your office space needs
Estimating your office space needs now could save you significant money. Changing offices mid-lease because you don’t have enough space to accommodate necessary staff can be much more expensive than factoring in expected growth needs before signing a lease. Likewise, excessive unused office space can cost you money that would be better spent elsewhere.