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Allen Gump: Shared Seating—the Next Big Paradigm Shift?

Allen Gump

I was reading my CCIM magazine the other day when an article called “Resizing or Right-Sizing?” caught my eye. Although I have a great deal of respect for Jim Young, the CEO of RealComm, his comments really annoyed me. Here’s why: How many times over the years have we been told that something is going to change the world as we know it? That some big “paradigm shift” is going to change everything? In this case, it’s office hoteling or “shared seating.”

In the article, one broker predicted that by 2015, the average square footage per employee will shrink by 75 percent. Jim’s comment was, “The idea of an office where you can hang pictures of your family and display your sports trophies is a thing of the past.”

Why do people feel the need to take something they may have seen in some sectors and extrapolate it into a world-changing event? Let me remind you of a few grand proclamations of the past:

• Computers are going to create a paperless society. Really?

• Just-in-time delivery is going to reduce the size of warehouses. Swing and a miss.

• Computers in offices will all just be “dumb terminals,” as everything will be hooked up to mainframes.

• Y2K will shut down all computer systems.

• The Japanese bought Rockefeller Center; therefore, they’re going to buy all our real estate and take over the United States. How did that work out for them?

• The Chinese are buying up all our debt and are going to take over the United States.

•  Manufacturing is a thing of the past in the United States. So why is Caterpillar is building a plant in Victoria, Texas, to manufacture excavators previously imported from Japan?

• All call centers are moving to India.

• 30’ clear height warehouses are obsolete; future warehouses will be 50’ & 60’ in height. Wasn’t that supposed to happen 20 years ago?

• Traveling to meetings is unnecessary because we’re all going to use video conferencing.

• The world will come to an end in 2000! No, 2001. No, 2002, 2003 …

• And my personal favorite: The Internet is going to eliminate the need for real estate brokers.

These are just a few “certainties” off the top of my head. (I’m sure there are even better ones—please let me know those you come up with in the comments section below.)

Jim Young is a brilliant guy, and I don’t mean to belittle his comments. Yes, perhaps there are situations where office sharing is a viable alternative. And yes, computers, iPads, smart phones, and new-technology phone systems are changing the way we do business. There’s no question that companies are looking for ways to reduce costs, and office sharing is a viable method for doing so. Larger companies with an enormous number of offices may use this approach of housing employees to help costs.

But if anyone thinks that all private offices are going away, they are mistaken. Law firms, accounting firms, insurance executives, investment banking, real estate developers and brokers—all will continue to demand them.

It wasn’t that long ago we were told that we’d all soon be working out of cubes; yes, many people are now doing so. But in the real estate broker world, that’s more of a cultural statement than economic necessity. (By the way, I’m told that in those offices with mostly cubes, “head-setters” wander aimlessly around the office talking on their headsets, so they can annoy everyone and not just the people they sit near.)

I’m grateful that at Colliers International, not only do we have private offices, but the company has kindly provided me with a cable hookup for the flatscreen TV in my office, allowing me to watch my beloved Texas Rangers on MLB. So if Jim doesn’t mind, I’ll keep my flatscreen TV, and my colleague who sits in an office just down from mine will keep his trophies and awards—or, as he affectionately calls it, his “I love me” wall.

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