How to Calculate Square Feet Per Employee

Dustin Staiger

The modern office is shrinking. According to a report by Property Portfolio Research, over the last decade, the size of the average office has decreased by 21 percent. When it’s time to sign a lease for your business—whether you’re considering making better use of existing space, expanding, or just starting up—consider the many advantages that come from maximizing your use of space in an office. Optimizing your workspace, instead of just increasing the amount of space you lease, can produce savings in your business’ operating costs, improve workplace productivity, and increase employee satisfaction if you do it right.

“over the last decade, the size of the average office has decreased by 21 percent”


In addition to directly saving you money off the cost of a bigger lease, maximizing your office’s current square footage will also save you money on utilities and other operating costs over the years. Since resources and coworkers are close at hand, a small, close-knit office can also be more efficient for workers. Additionally, the money you save by optimizing space can be reinvested into the quality of the space that you lease. Offices with high ceilings, big windows that provide lots of natural light, good circulation and high air quality are all known to boost worker productivity and happiness. Because of this, these types of office spaces are usually in high demand, and are therefore more expensive. By maximizing your use of office space, you can usually afford to budget more per square foot.

But workplaces are changing drastically, so how do you determine how much space you really need? It can be intimidating to try and figure out how to calculate square feet per employee on your own, but you can get a better idea of where to start by following these three steps:


First, evaluate the best layout for your office. Many companies are adopting group work spaces that promote collaboration while fostering employee health and job satisfaction. These open office designs provide flexible social work environments and require much less space than traditional workspaces. Additionally, thanks to technology, office workers today are more mobile than they’ve ever been. They can often work full-time or part-time remotely. With the increasing prominence of communal workspaces and mobile workers, businesses have the opportunity to rethink the way they budget and allocate office space.

While traditional offices require anywhere between 175 to 250 square feet per employee, open office plans can shrink that estimate by as much as one-third to one-half. This can give your business room to grow without relocating to a bigger space. In most open office layouts, each employee is assigned a dedicated workstation with a computer, phone, and perhaps storage. Supervisors may be grouped together with their departments at desks or a benching system alongside their coworkers with minimal or no barriers, which promotes collaboration and teamwork.

“open office plans can shrink that estimate by as much as one-third to one-half”

hoteling & hot desking

As dedicated open-office layouts have grown more popular, so have two other space-saving approaches to workstations: “hoteling” and “hot desking.” Hoteling is a method of creating shared workstations that are not assigned to an individual, but instead are free for any employee to use. This method is particularly useful for businesses whose employees travel between different office locations, work part-time or may work remotely. Employees who need to use one of the workstations can sign up to reserve time at one of the hoteling stations for a few hours, a day, a week, etc. 

Hot desking is a similar method of sharing workstations, but instead of reserving time at these desks, employees can use hot desk work stations on a first-come, first-served basis. This method of sharing workstations allows more flexibility for workers, but can also be quite chaotic. Additionally, if there is not enough workspace available for employees, productivity will drop and frustrations will start to rise. While these open desk configurations save space, they can pose challenges as well.

open office + quiet spaces

Open offices tend to be noisy and distracting, but designated quiet areas and conference rooms can help to alleviate unwanted sounds and interruptions. When it comes to hoteling and hot desking, hygiene can also become an issue. With many people using the same workstations, extra attention to cleaning between uses is essential, or germs will spread easily. If you’re considering hoteling, and hot desking, make sure that you have a good understanding of your employee’s daily tasks, including how much and what type of space they need to accomplish them. When in doubt, consult a commercial interior designer to help you determine your needs and options.


In the past, the amount of space a traditional office required was somewhere between 200 and 250 square feet per person. With the increasing prominence of open concept floor plans, that estimate no longer necessarily holds true. If you utilize any sort of open office layout, you may significantly reduce your square footage per office worker. Depending on the type of space you’re leasing, the layout of your office, and any unique needs that you may have (such as extra storage), your space requirements will likely fall somewhere between 175 to 250 square feet per employee.

This potentially leaves your business with a lot of extra room to grow, or to add additional amenities for your employees. There are several ways you can define each employee’s square footage:

  • the size of the employee’s workstation or office.
  • non-core space divided by headcount.
  • total square feet of the office divided by headcount (minus core space used for lobbies, lounges, meeting rooms, etc.).

Some businesses that commit to maximizing their space usage through open space offices and remote working can actually reduce their space needs down to between 100 and 150 square feet per employee. These guidelines, however, are extremely general when it comes to estimating how much space you’ll need. To get a more accurate idea of your real needs, as well as to help you avoid mistakenly expanding your space too early, or waiting too long to grow, you should consider consulting with a professional office space planner. Finally, estimate the number of employees you expect to have in the next three to five years.


Once you know what your office layout will look like, and approximately how many square feet per employee you’ll need, it’s time to plan for growth. When you sign a new lease for your business, you don’t want to commit yourself to a three- to five-year contract for an office space without considering how your business may change during that timeframe. Whenever the time comes for you to consider renewing an old lease or signing a new one, sit down and estimate how the headcount and/or space needs of your business might evolve over the next five years.

If you think your employee size will grow, factor that into the number of employees you see yourself employing five years from now. Use that new estimate to determine how much square footage you need to lease. While thinking conservatively is a good idea, it’s important to start out with a space that will accommodate your business as it continues to grow. Starting out with a slightly bigger lease than needed and later adjusting your office design to maximize space will be significantly cheaper, in the long run, than breaking a lease that no longer fits your needs.