Small is Big: The Tiny-House Movement Creeps into Offices

People are increasingly choosing to simplify, live with less, and downsize. Just look at the decline of the McMansion and the rise of the tiny house movement, which has helped fight homelessness, compress cities, and cut the cost of vacations.

Now, that tiny thinking comes to office design.

Images of futuristic-looking “office pods” that tout the benefits of small offices, mostly for home-offices, fill Pinterest. A number of companies, including OfficePod, Orangebox, SnapCab, Poppin, Nookpods, Smart Garden Offices, and ThinkTank make various kinds of office pods. Some are funky outdoor home offices made from glass and shaped like spaceships. Others are designed for sound-proof seating inside large-open office environments.

One small startup, Coroflot, thought small for its ambitious first office. The firm, which runs an online design platform, enlisted Portland studio Los Osos to come up with a tiny 280-square-feet office on wheels. Built with a $40,000 budget, the modular office was designed for ultimate flexibility, with workstations, a meeting area for presentations, and even a little kitchenette, in one petite space.

The idea of less space, less waste, and less money makes sense for small, bootstrap startups, Los Osos principal Laurence Sarrazin told Fast Company. Says Sarrazin: “The money spent on the build-out isn’t permanently tied to the building or location. The space investment is mobile, liquid, in a way; it can go places, it can be sold if necessary.”

It’s also a wise strategy for companies trying to make the most of the space they have, rather than searching for bigger office digs. Unless a company leases from an agile office provider like Knotel, expanding office footprints involves millions of dollars and months of planning to find space, negotiate leases, sublease current property, move, build-out space, and redesign it for more workers.

Plus, in the past, extra space — such as meeting spaces, lunch rooms, server rooms — often sat empty. Now, companies are finding that they can downsize their space, and use those extra amenities only when necessary, thanks to flexible office space. Real estate investment firm JLL estimates that by 2030, 30% of corporate office footprints will consist of flexible space, up from just 5% today.

To live with less space, some companies are playing with adopting unassigned seating amid today’s hyper-mobile and desk-less workforce. It makes sense:by 2020, IDC expects mobile workers will account for three-quarters of the total U.S. workforce.

And, as a result, the office space for them will shrink: At least 52% of corporate executives say they’ll implement some level of unassigned seating in the next three years, according to the CBRE’s 2018 Americas Occupier Survey. In a society where, traditionally, bigger is better and more is best, that shift will undoubtedly take more than a tiny-house-sized bit of adjustment.