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As I listen to hand-wringing about empty office towers due to people’s continued preference to work from home instead of commuting to a cubicle (those ungrateful swine!), a Christmas thought comes to mind: How is Santa’s workshop doing?

I imagine that elves prefer a WFH solution just as much as other primate. Any digital-only present can be created in an elfish bedroom, assuming there’s good broadband at the North Pole, and surely those magical creatures can use their basement shop to build stuff like Johnny’s pair of skates, Susy’s dolly and the storybook for Nellie who thinks dollies are folly – no matter what Jolly Old Saint Nicholas thinks about it.

So I wonder if Santa’s workshop is increasingly empty even during the run-up to Christmas. If so, perhaps he could lease it out to a data center.

Speaking of that workshop, a few years ago I began to wonder how big it was. This proved to be a fun little Fermi Problem, to use the term for quickly estimating an answer based on limited data. So grab an old envelope and do some calculating on its back.

First, I estimate that one-third of the world’s population celebrates Christmas with presents. That’s 2.4 billion people, roughly half of whom are children, so let’s say 1.2 billion presents must be built over the course of the year. (We’ll restrict Santa to one present per kid.)

As an employer, Santa is nice rather than naughty, so the elves work a 50-week year and 40-hour weeks. That’s 2,000 work hours a year, which means 600,000 presents have to be built each hour.

Elves are talented, so it takes an average of one hour to build each present. That means the workshop needs room for 600,000 elves working side by side.

Federal workplace safety standards contain lots of cool stuff like the definition of a “vertical elutriator cotton dust sampler,” I couldn’t find specifications for mythological humanoids. My assumption is that, since elves are efficient and undersized, they need just one square foot of space each, plus another square foot each for support areas such as cafeterias and bathrooms. (I’ll skip over the question of how to make a septic system at the North Pole.)

The result is a workshop with a footprint of 1.2 million square feet.

Then there’s the warehouse, because a delivery window of 18 hours for 1.2 billion items means you can’t do “just in time” manufacturing. If each toy occupies 1 cubic foot we need 1.2 billion cubic feet. A 20-foot-tall warehouse would take up 60 million square feet.

And that brings our total footprint for Santa’s workshop to 61.2 million square feet, or 1,400 acres, or about 2.2 square miles.

As I noted back in the day, Dubai International Airport claims a floor area of 12 million square feet, the Pentagon covers 6.6 million square feet, and Steeplegate Mall has 481,000 square feet of retail space. So Santa’s workshop is equivalent to four Dubai airports, two Pentagons and a Steeplegate Mall.

And just in case, that’s room for 610 data centers, using the industry average of 100,000 square feet.

Keep it in mind, Santa.

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