With Mountain View facing a possible avalanche of traffic congestion and gentrification from 5.5 million square feet of office growth in the development pipeline, the question of how many employees companies choose to pack into their buildings is as important a factor as ever, and one that city officials say is hard to pin down.
Despite the overwhelming consequences for nearly every resident of a city, Mountain View's largest employer, Google, refuses to say exactly how many employees it has in Mountain View, or even how many it tends to house in 1,000 square feet. Both city officials and the Voice have had requests for such information turned down.
When asked about the issue, Mountain View's community develpment director Randy Tsuda said that "it's tough to pin down because companies don't necessarily openly share that number. But we've been asking that question and we've been monitoring that over the last two to three years. The range we're hearing is 4.5 up to 6 employees per 1,000 square feet."
It's no secret that Google and Facebook have been leading a trend to squeeze employees into tighter spaces. That may be one reason why traffic and housing costs have spiked in recent years without much new office development.
Last week's story in the Voice analyzing office growth in Mountain View estimated that the city could see as many as 42,500 employees from the development anticipated in coming years -- an amazing number, especially when considering that the city has fewer than a few thousand new homes in the works. It would be a 62.5 percent increase from the 68,000 jobs the Employment Development Department reports that Mountain View had in 2011.
That 42,500 number was calculated by dividing the 5.5 million square feet in the works by an average of 130 square feet per employee, which translates to 7.69 employees per 1,000 square feet. That math didn't sit so well with one commenter on the Voice's online Town Square forum, who said the standard is 3 to 4 employees per 1,000 square feet or 250 to 333 square feet per employee but it turns out that such a standard is long out of date.
The Commercial Real Estate Development Association did a survey in 2012 of 500 corporate real estate executives, asking how many square feet was allocated to employees. It concluded that "the metric has changed from 225 square feet (per employee) in 2010 to 176 (square feet) in 2012, and is projected to reach 151 in 2017, with 40 percent of survey respondents indicating they would go below 100 by this period."
If the average were to go below 100 in Mountain View, that could mean space for 55,000 jobs in the city instead of the estimated 42,500. Tsuda said he's seeing it as low at 166 square feet per employee now.
"So much of it is determined by who the eventual tenant is, which nobody knows for some of these buildings," Tsuda said.
While working as Mountain View's zoning administrator from 1993 to 1998, Tsuda said he saw far fewer employees in the city's office buildings.
"I think what I saw here in Mountain View for companies in the 1990s was closer to 3 to 4 (employees) per 1,000 square feet, roughly," Tsuda said. "I saw more hard-wall offices, bigger cubicles, things like that." While working in corporate real estate from 1999 to 2004, "I definitely saw a trend to increasing the number of employees per thousand."
Intuit's Mike Gulasch said the philosophy behind the trend is that it's a way to encourage collaboration among employees.
"If you and I are in two private offices we just don't bump into each other as much," said Gulasch, Intuit's workplace planning and real estate manager.
Council members also discussed the trend towards more employees in tighter spaces last week while discussing a proposed 1 million-square-foot campus at 700 East Middlefield Road for a German real estate management firm.
"The standard planning principle used to be 300 square feet per employee," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "One of the things we're seeing in North Bayshore (where Google is headquartered) now is 100 to 150 square feet per person."
After cutting the number down some, the City Council is now contemplating zoning for 3.4 million square feet of new offices for North Bayshore, which Google could potentially begin building in 2015 if the zoning is approved this year. Whether Google will choose to lead the way towards squeezing 34,000 employees into North Bayshore alone remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the city has 834,000 square feet of additional office space under construction or recently built within its boundaries, with an additional 1.3 million square feet in proposed projects, potentially adding 12,855 jobs at 166 square feet per employee.