To what extent does the increased versatility and productivity gained from software and the Internet eliminate some of the need and/or defer some of the desire for new administrative level job creation, and thus more office space demand?
Think about how many tasks you can efficiently do by yourself today using off the shelf (and more so, off the web) software that would not have been efficient to do alone 15 years ago.
- Managing your contacts (seen a Rolodex within the last 5 years?)
- Correspondence (how many paper letters and paper memos are now taken from idea to final copy by the sender themselves?)
- Document sharing (sent a fax recently?)
- Screening your phone calls using caller ID and services such as Google Voice.
My first job out of college was as an Assistant in Hollywood. It was totally cruddy, but that’s how you start out if you want to make it in “the biz”. My peers were a mix of recent Ivy League grads and “lifer” secretaries. I spent a lot of time faxing and photocopying, and manning the phone, secretly passing a caller’s ID to my boss with a machine called a Minitel, a primitive precursor to instant messenger that had its own keyboard and a one-line screen. Some of the young ambitious recent college grads elect to persevere and go on to choose your TV programming, and some bail out for what they feel is something better for them.
Over the last several years, a lot of administrative jobs have been shed across all industries, and many executives who had support staff have come to manage just fine with the aid of software and the web.
The question becomes, then, is there an impetus, or a reluctance, to re-hire for these support functions in the anticipation of future growth? And if not, where do these workers fit in? And what does that mean for office space demand going forward? (What percentage of typical office space programming is dedicated to executive support staff?)
I debate this often with friends and colleagues. They counter that there are lots of new jobs that deal with the very technologies that have potentially obviated these support roles, to which I argue that maybe they are not capable of these types of jobs. Answering phones and coding in HTML are not equivalent in terms of difficulty. I get some dirty looks for seeming condescending, but it’s the cold hard truth and it needs to be heard.
Any thoughts? Let’s hear them.
Does anyone know a good source for identifying the mix of functional roles that were previously played by the currently unemployed?
Depends on your perspective. Tenants want to increase the efficiency of their space utilization. We are seeing density decrease from a typical of 250-300 sq.ft. per person to 200-250 sq.ft. per person (or less). Furniture design and the use of open plan is becoming more prevalent, but newer buildings are also designing with better core layout, column spacing and lower loss factors. Astute building owners realize that companies want better “mileage” out of their leased premises lowering the occupancy cost per employee. I think this changes the demand curve, but the market will adjust to accomodate the new defined needs.
Changes in job requirements happen all the time, given the economy ups and downs, companies tend to push more of the “tasks” to its employees. That means of course that support roles need to be multi functional so that in downtimes, they can shift to another role, department or company with a group of skills vs. a single set. Related to space, more emphasis is placed on work from home which helps companies reduce operating expenses (rent, utilities, furniture). I would surmise that depending on the company and role, technology will continue to evolve so much that only “hands on” job functions and some leadership will need real estate. All others will be remote. These groups will also require fewer offices and more cubicle or bench style layouts which would fold nicely into the LEED approach. These ideas are already at the forefront of new buildings and new space layouts in the industry.