Five dozen employees are probably too many to jam onto the limited floor space that Crimson Travel Service allotted them, the agency's owner granted. Then again, real estate in Cambridge, Mass., is dear, and office people can't expect the breathing room of cows in Vermont.

That's square thinking. To solve the dilemma, president and owner David Paresky turned to the circular workstation, a configuration gaining cachet not only with small, overhead-conscious enterprises, but among such big spenders as RCA and Boeing. In the typical open office, clustering workers in the round creates space for a good 25% to 40% more people, claims CenterCore Inc., a manufacturer from South Plainfield, N.J. Because the new desk wraps part way around the user, each centralized person gains 50% more work surface over the traditional desk as well.

Five people clustered around a point fit into about the same space as four laid out rectilinearly. The arithmetic adds up: when 680 old-style desks were replaced at a state office in Ohio last year, enough extra room was created to house five employee lounges and six conference rooms.

The elbow-to-elbow setting leaves much to be desired in the way of privacy. But CenterCore turns such forced intimacy into a selling point. "It makes people feel they're part of a team," president George Mitchell explains, "and they tend to produce better." For whatever reason, his reconfigured workers "love it," reports Paresky, who spent as much as $1,400 per desk. "But for someone with cheap rent," he reflects, "maybe it's not the way to go."