By: Gary London
I am writing this column from my home office at 10 PM, after the children went to sleep, and I am feeling a tinge of last minute energy.
It’s not unusual. Often, this is my most creative time. And it has been all of my life.
So why is Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer forcing her employees to stop their telecommuting and come to work 9 to 5? Surely they have all of the tools to NOT come to work—Skype, Facetime, remote access to the office server, even an iPhone. What’s up with her?
She is clearly going against the trend. Businesses housed in office buildings are utilizing dramatically less space than they filled a decade ago. In the last century my firm conducted its market studies on commercial office buildings by measuring demand at 250 square feet per employee. This is an “all in” number that includes hallways, administrative space, etc.
Over the past few years, however, we have been measuring demand utilizing data from new leases which are trending down from old leases to 165 to 175 square feet per employee, and we expect that number to go even lower to perhaps 125-150 in the foreseeable future.
If you measure this nationally, it translates into as much as 30 million square feet fewer space demand at the current growth rates. It really is an important trend with lots of implications.
Why? It’s not because people are getting smaller. It is because we have substituted our file cabinets in favor or hard drives, servers, and even the “cloud”. Companies are asking themselves why do we need to pay for space to house paper when we don’t need paper? Many companies are also well on their way to eliminate non-essential employees — many administrative functions – in a technology-driven downsize.
There is approximately 120 million square feet of office space in San Diego. I doubt very much that even with a reasonable and long term economic recovery period that this region will appreciably add much office space to this total over the next ten years. Commercial office construction is going to be about “cannibalization” (stealing tenants from other office buildings) than it is going to be about responding to net increases of demand for office space.
But Ms. Mayer might have a point. Even though I tend to spend a few hours a day in my home office, I must admit that the remote geeky side of me gives way to the touch feely side: I need to be around people. I like the office vibe as well. We often thrive off of each other when we are person to person.
The new age has given way to new ways to work—hoteling, co-location, work-at-home, remote. I don’t think it will ever give over completely to the wonders of technology. There must be a balance there somewhere!
There is even a land use ramification. Many cities, including the City of San Diego, have been pushing “smart growth”, loosely a term for better and more efficient built environments that emphasize relationships between mixed uses, including work and live. The point is that many of these projects are transforming existing and aging communities in a positive way. However, they are putting stress on the infrastructure, often traffic circulation.
These new ways to work bring to the forefront the question of not only where to work, but HOW to work. If we are taxing our roadways by stuffing a lot of density into neighborhoods that may not have been designed to accommodate it, we have two choices: either build more roads or other circulation solutions, or ask people to modify their habits or behavior.
These modifications can and do take the form of changing work hours (so as not to over stress the system during rush hours) or using other forms of transportation (walking, biking, Segway, company shuttle, etc.).
The ultimate traffic cure is with land use, not building more and better roads. The new San Diego is all about more efficiently promoting a better home to work solution.
This takes me back to my home office. Because I wrote this in a late night creative spurt, I think I will take a couple of hours tomorrow morning and work out, mess around with the kids, and then leisurely stroll into the office later in the morning.
Ms. Mayer take note. You may be shaking up a company culture because you need to in an effort to save the company. But you are not going to change the inevitable. We have the tools to alter the workplace, there are economic imperatives to do so, and people tend to be at their best when they have this ability to be flexible. And cities require these changes as they deal with growth and urbanization.