IPA Pulse Survey: Shrinking the Physical Office Footprint

As firms face a variety of difficult choices brought on by the logistical and economic fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the months ahead – from staffing and compensation to office reopening and hiring plans – our latest IPA pulse survey checked in with close to 150 MPs from around the profession during the latter half of May to see where they stand on several key issues going forward.

For example, with almost every firm having had to quickly move to remote working in the wake of local safer-at-home shutdowns at the outset of the crisis – and with this experiment-by-necessity having gone so well for so many of them – some may be considering making more of their staff permanently remote when things return to some semblance of normal. In fact, 41% of respondents noted that it is either very or somewhat likely that more than half of their staff will continue working remotely for the foreseeable future.

For those firms that do in fact decide to go this route, it may stand to reason that they won’t need quite as much real estate to accommodate fewer people returning to the office. How many, then, will be looking to potentially reduce their physical square footage the next time their lease is up for renewal?

Among the respondents in our poll, almost half (46%) reported they will be looking to possibly reduce their physical office space as their next lease comes up, with 37% of that group planning to cut square footage by 10%-30% and another 10% planning to shed 30%-50% of their space.

While smaller firms (under $10 million, and with presumably much smaller office footprints) were less likely to be considering a reduction, those firms in the $75-$125 million range appear to be ready to leave behind their big offices (and big rents) like recent empty nesters fleeing a high-tax school district, with 86% in this group saying a square footage reduction in their next lease is either very or somewhat likely.

Of course, the trend toward physical downsizing may be one that was merely exacerbated by, rather than explicitly inspired by, the pandemic. In comments, several respondents noted that their firms had too much office space prior to COVID-19, so the crisis-inspired move to more remote work only served to confirm their preexisting plans to shed some of the excess capacity.