Size Matters: Work Space Requirements for Office Work

Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, a production of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, broadcasting from Hamilton, Ontario.

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Health and Safety To Go. For those who work in an office, the workstation or workspace is where they sit, think, work, meet and, depending on the nature of the job, spend many of their waking hours. So when you are designing or planning a workspace, there are several factors to consider to best suit your employee and the work they do.

Office spaces must be designed and outfitted to enable employees to move safely and freely in the space, accommodating storage requirements and visitors where necessary, and allowing them to comfortably perform all aspects of their job. But how much space does an employee actually need?

To answer this seemingly simple question, you have to consider many aspects, including:

Nature of Work

If the employee spends most of the work day out of the office, in the field, or away from their desk, a smaller office space may be just fine. However, for office workers who spend most of their time at their workstation, a small space may make them feel cramped, confined and uncomfortable. Some job functions, just by the nature of the work (e.g. frequent meetings or visitors in their office space) may need more workspace. 

Individual Perception

Our perception of "adequate size" is a matter of comparison. Employees generally accept that people in higher management positions have larger offices. The amount of our personal space is often linked with our status within the organization, often signifying importance, respect and more authority or power. However, regardless of how large an individual's space actually is - if it is not as big as that of their peers - it will be regarded as too small.

Anthropometry (Body Dimensions)

Actual office space requirements depend on the size and shape of employees simply because an office has to accommodate them, enable them to move safely and unhindered in the workspace, and allow them to complete their jobs.

The allocation of the amount of working space for offices, and for workplaces in general, is complex. It is difficult to find standards that would apply to all kinds of work situations, and this is why existing standards and guidelines specify only the general requirements, if any.

Other considerations to consider:

Privacy: Does the workspace provide the level of privacy required? Can people talk in private, according to the level of confidentiality required? Do noises and conversations interfere with concentration or make it difficult to hear (if the work involves using the telephone)?

Light: Does the workspace provide the appropriate type of lighting (natural or artificial) required to comfortably perform the job tasks? 

Space and Work Surface: Is there need for space for storage or equipment (such as filing cabinets, or a second computer screen), or additional furniture such as a visitor's chair?

For more information about workstation design visit Thanks for listening everyone.