Why Your Office Space Continues to Shrink
Despite more than a billion square feet of empty office space in the US, a return to roomier layouts and private offices does not seem to be in the cards.
In the decade before the pandemic, the amount of office space per worker in the US shrank steadily — a trend given the charming name “densification.” Saving money was one driver, as was a belief among some employers that denser layouts encouraged interaction and innovation. But the best predictor of densification was “market-level job growth and the availability of space (or lack thereof),” commercial real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield concluded in a 2018 analysis of the phenomenon. That is, in large office markets such as Manhattan and San Francisco and up-and-coming ones such as Miami and Nashville, companies were simply hiring workers faster than they could find space for them.
Fast-forward to 2023. More than a billion square feet of office space stands empty in the US, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s estimates, for a national vacancy rate of 19.4% (up from 13% just before the pandemic). Yet after an upward spike in square feet per worker in 2020, the densification appears to be accelerating.