Anyone who thinks that cutting costs is the only reason to give employees less space should consider what Facebook did when it moved into the old headquarters of Sun Microsystems. Sun, one of the tech stars of the 1990s, designed its headquarters with private offices for software engineers. Not large offices, but offices with walls and doors so programmers could have quiet while writing code. That strategy was intended to make employees more productive while helping Sun recruit software talent, which was also being courted by other tech companies.
Sun is gone, and Facebook now owns its old headquarters building. Gone too are most of the private workspaces. Instead, the floor plan is dominated by pods made up of four small desks pushed up against one another. The primary reason isn’t cost control — the company doesn’t scrimp on perks for employees. What drove the design is collaboration. Like many other companies, the social networking giant believes that its employees are generally more productive working together than in isolation. (See Open To New Ideas.)
That strategy would go nowhere if employees didn’t buy in, especially in companies that face competition for the best talent. To get that buy-in, companies have to give employees something in return. Things like compensation and company status are a big part of that “something,” but so is the image of the workplace itself.
Younger employees in particular are often looking for a cool place to work. A workplace alone can’t make a company “cool,” but the work environment has an impact on the way employees feel about their employers. That point is worth considering even for companies that are only looking to slice real estate costs when they pack more people into less space. If denser workspace is in your company’s future, there are many steps — from offering views of the outside to providing LEED-certified space — that may help turn the negative of less space into the positive of better space.