Microspeak: Occupant compression

Raymond Chen

This is not so much Microspeak as it is Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities-speak. The following notice was displayed in one of the buildings:

Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities will be converting lab 1234 to a team space. The new space will ease occupant compression.

Occupant compression? Ouch, that sounds painful.

The term compression appears to be an actual term of art in the Real Estate and Facilities department. I found a presentation that was rich in citations.

Power/HVAC programming in per seat basis at #### W/SC results in risk given observed compression behavior.

We determined the frequency and magnitude that teams in neighborhood spaces compress.

Some neighborhoods always compress regardless of loading, likely caused by business drivers for proximity.

From what I can gather, compression is the term used to describe how close together people’s workspaces are.


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  • MR 0

    When I first saw that sign, after thinking over it a bit, I ended up concluding that “occupant compression” might actually mean “occupant mental stress”! In other words, the change would let people who were previously crowded together elsewhere in the building relax more by giving them more personal and open space, that is, the change would let them “decompress”.

    I think that interpretation makes some sense because it helps stress that, from the point of view of Microsoft Facilities, this change would be a significant improvement in people’s lives. Opinions might vary, of course…

  • gumpyx gus 0

    At a certain workplace, when all the available working space was all used up, and every parking space was filled, management hired a consulting company to figure out how to squeeze in another 10% more staff.  They charged a lot of money and after two months they suggested we open up a lot more open hallway and cafe space and turn up the lights to “European” standards.   Us techies pointed out that you  couldn’t put more  people in less space and more cars in the same space.   The consultants said they were “working on those aspects”.  And oh, the programmers rebelled en masse at the idea of more lights, too, also.  

  • cheong00 0

    At one of my ex-company, after we return from office re-partitioning, we found our partition reduced by 5cm in width in order to squeeze space for 2 more desks for new hires.

  • Michael Entin 0

    Google calls this “densification”.

  • David Walker 0

    As you have noted before, Microspeak (and other terms of art for different professions or occupations) often make up words when there are perfectly good words already.  I would say “The new space will ease (or reduce) overcrowding” instead of “ease occupant compression”.   

    • Brian 0

      The word compression already has a meaning in physics; it’s not like they’re making the term up. 

      The nice thing about the word compression is that it is value-neutral.  Such shifts in terminology are not about avoiding painful terms in favor of euphemisms (though that’s a side effect).  Rather, it’s about recognizing that decisions are about trade-offs and the value of those trade-offs is not necessarily determined by the designer.  Using neutral terminology helps prevent opinions from being snuck into a design document.

      • David Walker 0

        After I wrote my comment, I realized that I “misspoke” (or mis-typed) when I said “make up words”.  I meant, re-use other words in a (to me) weird way, when there’s another perfectly good word.  As you say, “compression” is more neutral than “overcrowding”.  Although, compressing a person sounds painful….

      • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee Author 0

        “Density” is a neutral word whose natural meaning seems to work just fine in this context.

      • MR 0

        I think there isn’t really a way to rewrite the phrase “ease occupant compression” merely by changing the word “compression” to “overcrowding”, “density”, or anything else, while respecting the need to both be clear and avoid making value judgments about the old and new states.

        I’d probably have written that as “Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities will be converting lab 1234 to a team space. The new space will provide more room for building occupants.” I think that is much clearer than any “ease” phrase. It puts focus on the people who work in the building, since the change is supposed to benefit them. And it doesn’t necessarily imply that there was not enough space before or that there is now enough space, though admittedly it could imply those things to the casual reader.

      • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee Author 0

        How about “reduce occupant density” – Unlike “ease” (which implies an improvement), “reduce” makes no value judgement here about whether it’s a good or bad thing. (As noted in the other citations, sometimes teams want to increase density to improve collaboration.)

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