Trading square footage for greater efficiency

Some area firms move to smaller, but better spaces

The cafeteria at Godrey & Kahn has a multiple purposes and is also used as a conference room and huddle space for staff.

When law firm Godfrey & Kahn S.C. decided it would become the anchor tenant of the new 833 East Michigan building, which was completed in March, the firm left behind 48 years of history at the BMO Harris Bank building in downtown Milwaukee – and a space that was about 15,000 square feet larger.

What it gained, besides amazing views of Lake Michigan and the city in its new location near the lakefront, is what the firm is calling “more we space and less me space.”

It’s a mantra being used across many offices these days, as firms are opting to reduce their square footage in exchange for more efficient spaces that include smaller work stations, huddle areas and in-house cafeterias.

“The days of the big corner office doesn’t exist like it used to,” said David Pudlosky, vice president of commercial real estate firm JLL’s Wisconsin office, who has represented several clients who have moved into smaller spaces. “Some people want to work at a desk, but others want soft seating, where they can grab a laptop, put their feet up and focus.”

Godfrey & Kahn currently leases 77,800 square feet of the top three floors of 833 E. Michigan St. The firm previously leased about 92,000 square feet of the BMO Harris Bank building, 780 N. Water St., where it had been located since 1968.

The new space includes a conference room in every corner.  All of the workstations are ergonomically correct and can be turned into a standing desk with the push of a button.

“We wanted to focus on the next generation employee and lawyer and what they would be looking for,” said Emily Muehl, marketing and communications supervisor at Godfrey & Kahn.

Pudlosky recently moved two clients, accounting firm KPMG and The Previant Law Firm S.C., into smaller spaces. Neither company reduced its staff size, but both were looking for more collaborative spaces.

The Previant Law Firm moved from about 20,000 square feet at Schlitz Park to 15,000 square feet at 310 W. Wisconsin Ave. downtown. KPMG moved from 16,000 square feet in the U.S. Bank Center downtown into 11,000 square feet at 833 East Michigan.

Joseph Rock, managing partner for KPMG’s Milwaukee office, said because so many KPMG employees spend time out in the field, he felt more of the office should be used as group space rather than desks or cubicles.

“We also don’t feel like we are in any less space,” Rock said. “It has only been one month, but so far, people seem to like it.”

JLL moved its office from 245 S. Executive Drive in Brookfield to the Two-Fifty building at 250 E. Wisconsin Ave. in downtown Milwaukee earlier this year. The company leased about 4,800 square feet at both locations, but Pudlosky said the configuration of the office downtown is much more efficient. In Brookfield, all of the brokers had their own offices. Downtown, everyone is at a work station and there are a few private rooms if people need to use an office.

“The entire culture changed when we moved,” Pudlosky said. “Hearing people on the phone, prospecting and completing deals is really energizing.”

Bill Bonifas, executive vice president at real estate brokerage CBRE, said moving to more efficient spaces is not an inexpensive upgrade for firms, since the furniture itself can cost upward of $5,000. But making the switch can be a way to retain employees and attract talent, he said.

“Some people have bemoaned that this is shrinking the office footprint, but look how many businesses are here that didn’t exist 20 years ago,” Bonifas said.

“There are a ton of new office workers. If you don’t have the office environment that excites people, it’s self-serving that they won’t stay here.”

Bonus online content: View a photo gallery of Milwaukee-area office spaces at

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