Hey, Spec: Can We Talk Density?

This week’s article is dedicated to the commercial real estate broker, many of whom approach me with the same question: “Hey, Spec, how many people can my client efficiently fit on this floor?”

If you’re one of the brokers who have asked this (or you’ve quietly wondered what type of tenant needs what kind of space), well, you’re in luck! You might want to put this article into a PDF and print it or pass it along via a hyperlink to a tenant or fellow broker you’re working with, as I’m about to answer this oft-asked question in detail.

First off, I’ll share with you what I tell clients at early planning meetings. After you decide you’re happy with the location of the space, your very next consideration should be how many employees you can fit into it. This will determine whether or not it will truly work for you and your staff. Keep in mind that there are many different ways to increase density. Sometimes you just need to think outside of the box to fit the right number of people into the box! That’s where an architect can help out.

Next, consider the type of tenant. A social media firm will have drastically different needs than a hedge fund or a law firm. Here’s what you need to know—a few benchmarks—by type of commercial end-user:

  • Social media and technology firms have similar density needs, requiring approximately 125 to 165 rentable square feet per person. More than any other type of tenant, they value shared spaces, close quarters and a sense of community, all of which contribute to creativity and innovation.
  • Hedge funds have their very own unique requirements due to the larger trading stations that are their hallmark. You should anticipate a need of 175 to 200 rentable square feet per person, which is ideal for the naturally dense mix of private offices, fitting with the culture of such companies, and workstations. However, increased wiring capabilities, technological advances and smaller tech stations mean that hedge funds are rapidly trending smaller. In fact, I predict these spaces will look more similar to social media firms in the years to come.
  • Private equity firms are still more traditional in nature, with an average requirement of 190 to 225 rentable square feet per person. These companies still boast a mix of private offices and typical workstations or cubicles measuring six-by-six or six-by-eight feet. They are starting to slowly embrace the modern model of benching, sprinkling it into spaces, though not quite as rapidly as those in trading or social media.
  • Law firms are still, by far, the most traditional of all, with densities of 300-plus (and even way above in some instances) rentable square feet per person. Though some legal clients are planning open areas, there is often a major push-back among senior partnership who desire the larger conference spaces and workstations that are synonymous with law firms and feel they are essential to recruitment and retention. Though times have changed—for instance, there is typically a five-to-one or three-to-one ratio of partners to legal assistants, rather than the one-on-one of years past, the culture has not. Flexibility in design has allowed legal tenants to make the most of their spaces, however. For instance, a well-designed conference room can include tables that can be broken down for different simultaneous uses, helping law firms to maximize the space they have while keeping the look and feel largely the same.
  • A typical corporate office space has changed in recent years, and I predict a downward trend in years to come. The density ranges from 200 to 225 rentable square feet per person with a combination of offices and workstations. Increased efficiency has led to these companies getting more functionality out of their workstations, adding in storage capabilities, coat closets, file storage and more.

Big, small or somewhere in between, no matter what size space your client needs, or how many people they’d like to work within it, a smart design can help them make the most of it. I’ll talk more about the tactics to achieve that goal in the weeks to come. Stay tuned!

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