Office space continues to get more dense, but there’s still room to roam outside of the cubicle as companies get creative about jazzing up common areas.

The average number of square feet per employee in a typical lease is shrinking, according to a corporate real estate association, and the downward trend is expected to continue. CoreNet Global, a nonprofit organization that oversees the real estate assets for corporations, reported in a survey that the average lease amounts to about 150 square feet per employee. That is down from 225 square feet in 2010.

More than half of the survey respondents think the average number of square feet per employee will drop below 100 by 2020. Ed Tonnessen, managing director of Stamford-based real estate company JLL, however, thinks the lease sizes will start creeping upwards again.

“My own opinion is that we will migrate back to some degree from the extreme densified workplace — not back to the old days, but to some place in between,” he said.

For now, though, Tonnessen sees the trend toward tighter workspaces. He said 90 percent of JLL’s clients are “densifying” their space. His clients say the smaller spaces are more driven by collaboration opportunities rather than cost reduction.

“Thirty years ago, if you told me you had 30 people, I knew you needed 10,000 square feet,” he said. “Today, you could see 5,000 square feet for the same number of people.”

The demand for smaller leases is a factor in the overall vacancy rate throughout Fairfield County. According to a recent report by Cushman & Wakefield, the vacancy rate in Fairfield County increased from a year ago to 23.2 percent as supply outpaced demand.

Robert Caruso, senior managing director at CBRE, said many companies are paring down space for individual employees but using more space for common areas, such as kitchens and break rooms.

“It’s allowing forward-thinking companies to be more efficient with their space. Companies are rethinking their space into something that can differentiate them and act as a catalyst to attract the right type of employees,” he said. “The specific work area may be smaller, but companies are creating more amenity space to make the overall footprint not decrease too much.

“There definitely has been a trend of doing more with less,” Caruso added with the caveat: “You can only make space so tight.”

Bucking the trend

Odyssey, a transportation company based in Danbury, recently increased its square footage when it moved from the first floor to the fourth floor of the Matrix Corporate Center. Company growth played a factor in the decision to expand its footprint in the building and extend its lease another 10 years, but the company also seized what leaders saw as a unique opportunity.

Odyssey increased its space from 20,000 to 25,000 square feet for roughly 100 employees. The Matrix Corporate Center, the 1.2-million square foot former headquarters of Union Carbide, has plenty of vacancy following the departure of large tenants such as Praxair and Boehringer Ingelheim. The glut of space in the building allowed for Odyssey to expand its presence there, build out a brand new office space and not break the bank doing it.

“We were fortunate because of the abundant space available here for a good price, and the building owners are obligated to provide the amenities written in the contract,” Cosmo Alberico, COO and CFO of Odyssey, said. “We scouted the area and found this was the best location for us. We had the opportunity to pick our spot.”

Odyssey has been a tenant of the Matrix since the company was founded in 2002.

Alberico said the cubicles shrunk from 8 feet by 6 feet to 6 feet by 6 feet, but the new space has more and larger conference rooms, large executive offices and a kitchen plus huddle rooms, where employees can go to make personal phone calls or meet in private with co-workers.

Odyssey’s new lease works out to about 250 square feet per employee, much higher than the current average. Alberico said that is not the norm at Odyssey’s other locations. The company employs about 1,725 people globally, including 10 offices in the U.S. The Charlotte, N.C., customer service center, he said, employs 150 people and the average square footage per employee is about 165.

Imaginative design

While Odyssey’s lease creates plenty of space for its employees, many companies do not have the luxury of leasing 250 square feet per employee anymore. With the space constraints, companies are being creative with their interior design so that employees do not feel like they are being packed in.

Designs include the use of glass to create interior vistas; maximizing the number of employees near windows for exterior views; comfortable common areas for people to congregate; and decorative logos and colors to brighten the space.

“A lot of glass, wide open — we’re seeing a lot of that,” John Hannigan, principal in the Norwalk-based tenant representation firm Choyce Peterson, said. “Think beyond the front door; you can really create a terrific environment.”

Trends with companies seeking more compact offices since the recession have benefited some downtown Greenwich buildings that offer suites catering to tenants wanting smaller floor plates. In the case of 41 W. Putnam Ave., which is owned by Greenwich-based Ivy Equities, several tenants leasing between 1,150 and 1,500 square feet have moved into the recently renovated building within the last year.

The town’s office market is somewhat slow overall, according to Christian Bangert of Rhys Commercial, but tenants around that size are active.

Between the recession and advances in technology, companies have realized that they can “accommodate more people per 1,000 square feet,” said Ivy Equities co-chief executive officer Rusty Warren Jr.

“The office environment is changing — there is a new math, new culture and a new look,” Tonnessen of JLL said. “It’s real and what it means is that it’s a much more dynamic, more connected work environment.”

— Includes reporting by Macaela J. Bennett, Alex Soule and Paul Schott.

cbosak@hearstmediact.com; 203-731-3338