Terrie's Job Tips -- Space Planning for Employees, Part III: Practical Application

Sometimes life offers us synchronicity, and one such event happened to me a few days ago. I had just finished Part II of this series on calculating just how much space is needed to house your employees, when a client happened to ask me the exact same thing. This client is based overseas, but has a Tokyo office, complete with a local country manager and half a dozen staff. They are planning to ramp up fairly quickly, and want to have an office for 12-15 staff by the end of the year. Currently they are in a serviced office.

Using my high-end rule-of-thumb calculation of 2.5 tsubo (about 8.25 m²) per person, I suggested that the client would want somewhere between 30 and 40 tsubo of office space. This would include a small entrance lobby with room for a couple of chairs, a single meeting room, a small office administration area (copier, shredder, LAN printer, etc.), and reasonable access to all the desks. Toilets, kitchen, and elevator halls in professional office space are typically not included in the rentable space.

Luckily for my client, there are a number of older buildings measuring between 30 and 40 tsubo per floor and these are typically owned by a single landlord rather than a large company. But the older the building, the more likely it is that problems are going to crop up, and as I mentioned in an earlier article, for earthquake safety reasons you probably don’t want to be in a building constructed earlier than the mid-1980s.

Another problem with older and smaller buildings is that you are likely to find support columns interfering with the usable space. Thus, even though you are looking at a reasonable monthly rent, if you can’t use 20% of the space because there are inconvenient columns breaking up your design flow for cubicles, then the real cost of the office is considerably more. This is one reason why many renters prefer more modern B-grade buildings (constructed in the last 10 years), which offer completely usable space per floor. The problem with newer buildings, especially the big ones, is that often you can’t rent less than 50 tsubo – which is the effective space between building support columns (they build the premises’ dividing walls between the columns).

Another factor affecting how much usable space you will get is your use of cubicles. At the low end of space utilization, around 2 tsubo (6.6 m²) per person (versus the more “luxurious” 2.5 tsubo I was suggesting to my client), you can really only consider a completely open office plan, and typically you will have the sales team desks backed up against each other Japanese style. This means that sales (and often administration) would get no cubicles and the sales manager would sit at a desk on the head of each row. This is a very efficient space configuration, but it doesn’t offer privacy or noise abatement. Japanese sales staff are used to it, but your multinational staff may not be too happy with the arrangement. Even with this set up, support and technical staff would typically have a cube, because they often need to have lots of reference books and other materials close at hand.

Getting back to cubicles, obviously there is a great variety of sizes and shapes. The 2.5 tsubo calculation I used for my client allows for smaller desks, with roll-away drawers below, and waist-high partitions to allow sufficient light into the spaces farthest from the windows. Typically a smaller office like this will not provide staff locker space, but 40 tsubo for 12-15 people would provide space for a limited number of lockers if required.

Using their own resources, my client’s local staff found a reasonably priced 40 tsubo space in southwest Tokyo, and at first glance it was a good deal. However, after the design firm did their layout, it became clear that pillars lopped off a big chunk of space by the windows, and the cubicles were all uniformly large in size. Furthermore, there was an extra (second) room.

The local staff have said that they will struggle to fit 12 people in this space and are reluctant to move forward. I, on the other hand, can’t help putting on my cost-saving entrepreneur cap and suggesting how the filing cabinets and office administration area could be moved between the inconvenient pillars. Also, chopping the second meeting room would in fact encourage the sales staff to get out and try to sell more directly to clients, rather than expecting the clients or resellers to clog up the office!