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Joel on Software

Office Space Calculations

by Joel Spolsky
Friday, March 02, 2007

It's hard to believe that Fog Creek needs more office space already... it's been less than a year since we finished expanding to take over the whole 18th floor here at 535 Eighth. This summer, unfortunately, with all the summer interns, we're going to have some people doubling up in offices, and by May 2008 our lease here will have run out.

In calculating how much space we're going to need, I'm using this formula.

  • Offices: Most full time employees get 70 or 100 sqft. For summer interns, we're planning three interns per large office, 150 sqft.
  • Reception area: 250 sqft.
  • Bookshelves and mailing station: 75-100 sqft.
  • Supply room: 100-200sqft.
  • Server closet: 65 sqft.
  • Lunch room: 30 sqft per employee.
  • Kitchen: 200 sqft
  • Conference room / Lounge: 250 sqft.
  • Shower: 75 sqft

You take the total that gives you and add 30% for circulation (hallways and passageways) which gets you something often called the carpetable square footage. It would be really nice if office space listings were given in carpetable square feet, because that's what the tenant cares about, but the landlords instead make up some kind of number that includes:

  • building mechanicals
  • elevator shafts
  • exterior walls
  • common bathrooms
  • a percentage of the building's common areas including the lobby, loading dock, superintendent's office that you can't go in, roof deck that you can't get out on, and the building owner's house in Queens which if you tried to go near a goon would shoot you in the knees (despite his very fetching daughter trying to seduce you from her bedroom window).

Theoretically the building has something called a loss factor which converts between how much space you have to rent and how much actual room you get for offices and espresso stations, but in reality, this just gets you in the ballpark, and every space is different (long narrow spaces need more circulation space) so there's no alternative to having your architect take the floor plans and actually figure out how many offices will fit in there.

The other problem we're going to have is that we can assume that we'll be growing during the course of the typical 5-10 year lease, and we certainly can't afford to rent enough space for our 2017 needs right now. The brokers we spoke to suggested three ways to solve this problem:

  • Move frequently. Works best rents are going up, because you can get out of your lease early or sublet your old space. Increases the costs of construction and is a pain in the butt.
  • Get space + an option to expand. Landlords might be able to give you an option to expand at a particular date in the future in their building.
  • Get too much space and immediately sublet some of it. Landlords don't love this because they don't like their tenants competing against them to rent out space in their own building... the tenants are usually desperate to sublet their extra space and will always undercut the landlord.

We're also toying with a fourth idea: getting too much space and renting it out in small chunks to software startups that need an office or two while they're bootstrapping, and who would appreciate a working environment designed for programmers rather than a coffee shop or one of those coworking places. The trouble is that it would end up costing something on the order of $1500 a month for a private, Fog Creek-quality office, which might be out of the range of bootstrapped startups.


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About the author.

I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, easy web-based collaboration software, FogBugz, an enlightened bug tracking and software development tool, and Kiln, a distributed source control system that will blow your socks off. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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