News & Research Archive

Why Open Plan Layouts are becoming the Norm

Feb 27, 2012

I was recently in an old law office space that had been freshly vacated and consisted of individual offices at least twelve by sixteen feet in size. All of the offices had old wood paneling throughout, a sink in each office plus an area for liquor below; there was also a mirror and a closet in each office. How times have changed!

Today, with more and more firms going paperless, office space design has changed dramatically from the days of larger, private offices. Managers are now finding themselves placed within the bullpen of workers as firms are decentralizing their levels of authority. The more common layout is: a few offices, one large conference room, two or three larger meeting rooms, a kitchen, storage and the rest open area for workstations. Server rooms are now being reduced to a closet as more firms move to cloud systems. Library areas have altogether disappeared.

Another big change in office layout is the entry area of offices. With fewer firms using traditional receptionists, the need for a large entry or receptionist area has been greatly reduced. More firms are using flat screen monitors to advertise their welcome message in a smaller lobby area with less seating: cutting down costs of office space as well as eliminating the need for a receptionist desk area. Costs have been further reduced as firms are spending less money on finishes in their lobby entrances; wood and expensive tile are out in favor of traditional carpeting that carries throughout the space.

These changes can be tied to firms experiencing less personal meetings in their offices as they utilize remote conferencing tools to connect with clients and employees. With the advancement of larger flat screen monitors and high-speed internet access, firms can have conference meetings with people around the world without the need to meet in person. These meetings can often times be far more efficient as participants are able to set up ahead of time and have their presentations up and running when its their turn to address their audience. As opposed to days of past where each participant had to come in, set up, and each time a participant was to make his presentation, switch off and re-set presentations.

Another big change in office layout is the size of kitchens. In the past, large seating areas were arranged, taking up additional office space. Today, firms have reduced kitchens to a table or two as most workers are either eating at their desk or outside of the office. Vending machines are a thing of the past and high-speed espresso machines have replaced coffee makers, taking up far less space on a kitchen counter top. The conference room experience has also changed as flat screen conference monitors have replaced paintings and bookshelves have been taken out all together in favor of smaller conference rooms or to allow for more seating.

In years past, the rule of thumb was 200-225 square feet of space per person when designing an office. Today the rule is closer to 160-180 square feet per person and continues to diminish as mobile technology tools further develop and the need for office space shrinks.


Written by: Hans Hansson


Hans Hansson is President of Starboard TCN Worldwide Real Estate Services as well as a member of the Board of Directors for TCN Worldwide Real Estate. Hans has been an active broker for over 27 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in office leasing and investments. If you have any questions or comments please email or call him at (415) 765-6897. You may also check out his website,

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