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Decoupling Office Size From Corporate Status

From Terry Pristin, A New Office Can Mean Making Do With Less, NY Times, May 26, 2004:

When PricewaterhouseCoopers moves into its new offices in Midtown Manhattan this summer, it will slim down by about 200,000 square feet of space from the 1 million it now occupies. Yet PricewaterhouseCoopers says it is not planning to reduce its New York work force of 3,500. Instead, everyone is just going to have to squeeze in.

* * *

[T]he point, naturally, is to save money, since office space is leased by the square foot. In doing so, PricewaterhouseCoopers is also trying to crack the longtime link in employees’ minds between space and status – the notion that each higher rung on the corporate ladder brings with it an entitlement to a larger, fancier office.

Partners who now luxuriate in window offices averaging 250 square feet will move to interior spaces half that size, said David Jarman, the executive in charge of planning the new office. Managers who now have as much as 140 square feet will get 80.

This could be a good thing — Robert Townsend, former Avis Rent-a-Car CEO, suggested it 30+ years ago in his book, Up the Organization!

This story reminded me of the silliness that my law firm used to engage in concerning office assignments. The partners’ offices were generally assigned on the basis of seniority. Periodically a partner would move to one of the firm’s other branches, or would leave the firm entirely. Invariably, this touched off a chain reaction in which one junior partner after another moved “up” into a newly-vacated office. (For years after making partner, I refused to move out of my associate-sized office, foolishly hoping it would set an example.) I once asked our support staff what these office shuffles cost; ther guesstimate was $10,000 apiece.

Every once in a while, I would suggest to my partners that we should have one size of office. I argued that the corner offices should be used for conference rooms, war rooms, etc. My partners’ reaction was always one of tolerant amusement. It’s nice to see PwC actually doing something in this regard.

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