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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

Scoop: Border officials project 13,000 child migrants in May

The "El Chaparral" border crossing at Tijuana. Photo: Stringer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous "kids-in-cages" disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.

9 hours ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Senate parliamentarian rules $15 minimum wage cannot be included in relief package

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Why it matters: It's now very likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, as the provision cannot be passed with the simple Senate majority that Democrats are aiming to use for President Biden's rescue bill.