Last winter, banking-software firm Andera Inc. moved into a new 15,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Providence’s Gateway Center to accommodate its growing workforce.
Like many young computer-sector companies, Andera wanted contemporary-looking offices that would appeal to talented technology workers while encouraging a collaborative, flexible work environment.
So instead of laying out a traditional grid of cubicles surrounded by private offices in the new space, Andera opted for an open concept with large common areas and smaller “break-out” meeting rooms. Where employees 20 or 30 years ago might be anchored to their desktops and land lines, workers in the new-style office gather around large tables with their laptops or hold teleconferences in the smaller meeting rooms.
“We’re not tied to our desks,” said Andera Vice President of Marketing Laurie McLachlan. “As a result, we can dedicate a lot less space to private desks and offices. The overall result is a more collaborative and productive working environment that’s less costly than a traditional office set up.”
Specifically, Andera estimates the open-concept offices use about 30 percent less space than traditional offices for the same number of workers, a significant cost savings to go along with a more contemporary look.
And that kind of savings is popular beyond the technology sector.
As it has with stores and factories, the digital revolution continues to slim down office spaces across industries.
Breaking down cubicle walls is one example of the forces shrinking offices, but others include smaller equipment, employees working from home and utilization of off-site or cloud-based services.
“What I see is not necessarily less people working in corporate offices, but less space needed per person,” said Karl F. Sherry, partner at Hayes & Sherry Real Estate Services in Providence.
While the amount of room dedicated to traditional offices may be shrinking, many in commercial real estate and the workplace-design world say they don’t necessarily see a drop in demand for space.
“Ten years ago I went to a commercial real estate conference in Boston and someone said: ‘in 10 years you will not be leasing office space any more – people will all be working from home,’ ” said Neil Amper, vice president of Capstone Properties in Providence. “Obviously that hasn’t happened. Some are downsizing while others are expanding.”