Sounds like a simple enough question on the surface, right?
But if you’re tearing your hair out because it’s weirdly hard to know what size office you should be looking for... trust us, we get it!
In some ways, this is an objective topic. Something you can crack in a spreadsheet. But it’s also seriously subjective, with lots of factors that play a role in shaping your perspective.
There are practical considerations (e.g. square feet for different areas and ceiling height) and philosophical considerations (e.g. the kind of working environment you want to create and your company growth trajectory).
What are the main ones? We’ll walk you through them.
Practical considerations for office size
Square feet vs human feet
The size of an office is usually advertised in square feet, but you’re probably thinking about how much space you need in terms of human feet (i.e. number of desks). What even *is* a square foot anyway?
At Kontor, we always say to multiply the number of people you have by 100. Then work 500 sq ft each side of that number to allow for differences in the layout of spaces and to give yourself more options in the start.
A few rules of thumb:
Per person, all-in, taking into account desks, meeting rooms and breakout spaces... 100 square foot is generous, 60 square foot is cosy, and 50 square foot is veeery cosy.
Thinking in terms of a ratio for breakout areas to desks… well, how long is a piece of string? Anything is better than nothing. And the more breakout areas you have, the better. Up to a point. Above 40:60, the amount of human-less space can start to feel like a blocker to interaction and collaboration.
For meeting rooms only (e.g. external), you need to allow roughly 15 square feet per person.
For a reception that can accommodate a receptionist plus a few visitors waiting in limbo, you’re looking at a minimum of 150 square feet.
But these aren’t hard and fast rules. Every building’s design and structural and mechanical engineering has a bearing on the space that’s actually available to use, as does the infrastructure and configuration within the rooms. For example, you’re obliged to leave a certain amount of clearance in front of a lift or staircase and around fire escapes.
The distance from floor to ceiling can also influence your perception of the size and utility of the space. High ceilings make a small office feel bigger. They also offer more scope for vertical storage, which means more floor to play with. (On the flipside? If you need to build walls and want all glass… get your chequebook out!)
Light-filled offices tend to feel bigger too. (No surprises here… pretty much every client wants a bright, airy workplace, though the possibility hinges on budget and location constraints.) OK, you can’t use a pane of glass to prepare your quarterly board update. But the windows could sway the decision if you’re stuck choosing between two similar offices.
Curveball: bad weather or winter darkness could make the window situation more or less salient when you’re viewing an office. Ask yourself, how might the space feel different in the height of summer?
Meeting room and call pod requirements
Meeting rooms and call pods aren’t impossible to install further down the line. But let’s be honest, it’s a pain you could do without. And once your team is used to having a certain amount of space, they won’t adore the idea of having some of it fenced off, taking them the space from “generous” to “cosy”...
So if you’re going for a leased office, try to plan for (and budget for) meeting rooms from the outset.
Going for a fully-managed flexible office? There’s a chance you’ll have access to shared meeting rooms elsewhere in the building. Though they’re not always free of charge, the cost could be lower than splurging on space for meeting rooms that are yours 100% of the time (depending how often you use them). What’s more, some providers will offer to build meeting rooms into your space for you, if it’s a big unit or self-contained.
Event space or social space
Intriguing! What do you have in mind? (We’re always on the hunt for inspiration, but more to the point, the purpose dictates the requirements…)
Technically, event space or social space is another flavour of breakout space. But we’ve put these in their own special bucket, because if you want something drastically different from the average, you’ll need to rethink your square foot calculations.
Some shared office buildings offer bookable event space. This might do the job, provided you’re happy to take your chances on the dates.
Showers, bathrooms, bike storage
Many buildings have showers and bike storage in the common areas these days, so you won’t need to worry about building them into your own space. However, older buildings often don’t.
Strong lycra contingent in the house? Rather not spend all day staring at a tangle of muddy bikes? Do some detective work and factor these requirements into your thoughts on office size.
Philosophical considerations for office size
What’s your company growth trajectory?
Less of a challenge for established companies, but for scaleups and startups, the ultimate dilemma.
Nobody wants to pay for space they’ll never use. Meanwhile, nobody wants to undergo the stress and hassle of moving again sooner than they absolutely have to either. We understand that when you’re in all-out growth mode, it’s tricky to predict what next month will look like, let alone next year. Even with the best strategy, forecasting tools, analysts and crystal balls in the world.
Many of our clients at Kontor are startups and scaleups who moved into a space that felt terrifyingly half-empty to start with, and before they knew it, they were two to a desk.
Sounds like you? A fully-managed flexible solution could be your salvation. It’s no surprise this type of office has been steadily gaining popularity over traditional leases over the past decade. They make it possible for you to sign an agreement for 6 months (or even less), with optionality to move out or move around or take more space in the same building.
What kind of working environment do you want to create?
Open plan offices get a lot of love for encouraging collaboration and openness, but at the same time, evidence suggests they’re not so hot on the productivity and focus front. (Just ask the internet.) For many companies, open plan is the only option that’s in budget, and with careful planning and management, it is possible to minimise the downsides and maximise the upsides.
Are you one of the lucky souls with the ability to choose? Whether you go large or small, just give a thought or two to how the decision could affect your team dynamic.
Could your business benefit from investing in spaces beyond the usual desks, breakout, meeting rooms?
Say you’re a fintech with a podcast series… cool, sounds like an office with access to a podcast recording studio could pay off (yes, they exist!). Say you’re a scaleup looking to formalise your internal comms... maybe you need bleachers for town hall gatherings.
And what about different working zones? One that’s reserved 100% for creative collaboration, for example, or one for conducting in-house customer research? Or could an abnormally large kitchen bring you more upsides than just having a place to eat a sandwich? We know these ideas aren’t always in budget (we’re not out to give your accountant a migraine, promise) but in theory, the possibilities are endless.
No two companies are the same. So if you’re struggling to decide what size office you need, you’re not alone. The good news? The decision gets easier after you’ve seen a few options and have a frame of reference.