With the unemployment rate at 9 percent, many Americans consider themselves lucky just to have a job. But those who do have a job are increasingly unlucky when it comes to work space. According the International Facility Management Association, space for the average office worker shrank by more than 16 percent between 1994 and 2010. At the same time, the average "corner office" — space for executive management, that is — got bigger. Here, a brief guide to the findings:
How much smaller have workspaces gotten in recent years?
Significantly smaller. In 1994, the average office worker got 90 square feet of space (equivalent to a 9-by-10 foot area). By 2010, that had been whittled down to 75 square feet. Senior office workers also experienced shrinkage, from 115 square feet in 1994 to 96 in 2010. Gensler, a design firm that has renovated workspace for 70 percent of the Fortune 500 companies, estimates that, on average, they've downsized cubicles from 8-by-10 feet to 5-by-5 (or just 25 square feet).
Why not just do away with cubicles altogether?
Many companies, including Facebook, are taking that route, opting for open-seating that is part of a "team-oriented" model. "Companies across the country are shrinking those boxed-in work areas or scrapping the notion of the once-ubiquitous cubicles altogether," says Stephanie Chen at CNN. This reminds me of the classic movie Office Space, says Megan Friedman at Time. "Maybe Lumbergh was just ahead of his time when he moved Milton to the storage unit."
What about boss types?
They're not feeling the pain. In fact, on average, top executives actually saw an increase in space over the same period, from just under 250 square feet in 1994 to nearly 300 last year.
Why is this happening?
Cost-cutting is a key reason, but it's not the only one. Office equipment has gotten smaller and more streamlined. As flats-screen monitors replace clunky ones and laptops and iPads replace hulking computer towers, smaller work stations are considered adequately spacious, not to mention more environmentally friendly. Plus: Employees who frequently travel or spend most of their days in meetings may not need as much space. "It's not about making it smaller," says Martha Johnson of the General Services Administration, a government agency that helps manage federal agencies. "It's about making it more flexible."
How do workers feel about this?
That depends on whom you ask. Johnson, who says many employees aren't bothered, claims that "people don't all want their own space." And yet, at SAS, a North Carolina software company that's been voted the number one place to work the last two years by Fortune, nearly all employees get private offices, and the company says that's helped make SAS a success. "We do value an employee not just as a commodity," says SAS' senior marketing officer, Jim Davis. "But as an asset."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Chuck Hagel was a huge mistake
- Want to eliminate the scourge of frat culture? Lower the drinking age.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- A brief history of the Guy Fawkes mask
- 5 quick things you can do today to boost your creativity
- Yes, the Obama administration's green loans are unprofitable. They should be.
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- What would it take for humans to build a settlement on Mars?
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- House hunting: 7 stunning castles in Europe
Subscribe to the Week