Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Over the last four decades, Americans' personal space at work has steadily shrunk.

Why it matters: Companies around the country were able to abruptly send their employees home to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but bringing those panicked employees back after the pandemic won't be so easy — especially to increasingly cramped, open-plan offices.

The big picture: Average square feet of office space per worker in the U.S. has been declining since 1990, from around 260 square feet then to 214 now, according to data from commercial real estate firm CoStar. The uptick between 2008 and 2010 was due to companies laying workers off but keeping their office leases during the financial crash.

Data: CoStar; Chart: Axios Visuals

The numbers are even smaller when looking just at cities, says Paul Leonard, a managing consultant at CoStar.

  • Average space per worker is around 180 square feet in the country's largest metro areas.
  • On top of that, people have grown accustomed to closer quarters and more shared areas due to rise of coworking spaces, says Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO of SquareFoot, a commercial real estate company. Consider WeWork, which has been leading the recent redesigning of offices, where space per worker is 75 square feet.

But, but, but: Those long shared desks and communal phone booths will be downright panic-inducing to millions of Americans coming back to the office after months of isolation and social distancing.

Firms might be forced to redesign their offices to give nervous employees more personal space — within the confines of their often decades-long leases.

The bottom line: The dreaded greige office cubicle looks pretty good right now.

Go deeper

America's rush for young poll workers

Note: Colorado is a mail-in ballot state, but they also offer in-person polls.; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Local elections officials are sprinting to recruit younger poll workers ahead of November after elderly staff stayed home en masse to avoid coronavirus during primary elections.

Why it matters: A Pew Research analysis reports that 58% of U.S. poll workers in the 2018 midterms were 61 or older. Poll worker shortages can cause hours-long voting lines and shutter precincts.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 18,897,857 — Total deaths: 710,136— Total recoveries — 11,402,427Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 4,854,690 — Total deaths: 159,433 — Total recoveries: 1,577,851 — Total tests: 58,920,975Map.
  3. Politics: Pelosi rips GOP over stimulus negotiations: "Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gives a damn" — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tests positive.
  4. Public health: Fauci says task force will examine aerosolized spread.
  5. Business: The health care sector imploded in Q2More farmers are declaring bankruptcyJuly's jobs report could be an inflection point for the recovery.
  6. Sports: Where college football's biggest conferences stand on playing.
2 hours ago - Podcasts

America's middle class pandemic

Each day that goes by without a COVID-19 stimulus agreement is another day of worry for many in America's middle class, which was already shrinking before the pandemic began.

Axios Re:Cap digs into middle class myths and realities with Jim Tankersley, a New York Times economics reporter and author of the new book, "The Riches of This Land."