As the time approaches toward cautiously easing up on the COVID-19 lockdowns, many of us are starting to envision the transition from working at our kitchen tables, or home in general, to returning to the office. Yet, with no vaccine, several aspects of modern workplaces must adapt in order for employees to safely return to their desks.
Open office arrangements have become increasingly more common than you would think because it’s both a design trend and a cost saving measure. Frank Lloyd Wright, a famous architect, made the open office concept popular in the early 20th century and believed the modern design would democratize workplaces by tearing down walls both physically and socially. Eighty years later, designers and architects agree that an open environment allows employees to collaborate more seamlessly. Fast forward to modern times and there is really no definition of what an open office should have or look like. In general, there is an absence of cubicles and barriers.
Unlike the original concept, open offices of today are now used to cram more employees into smaller spaces. Drawbacks to the modern open office arrangement are beginning to surface. A study done in 2018 by the Royal Society observed the measured changes in employee habits when offices transitioned to more open layouts. In the study, they found that face-to-face communication actually declined by 70 percent, while electronic communication increased. The study showed that employees were worried about distracting others or even being overheard, so then those employees began to “socially withdraw.” One thing is for certain, clustered people with minimal barriers will have coronavirus licking its chops. Rethinking floor plans will involve heavy consideration for people’s personal space and strict cleaning schedules.
An alarming investigation recently published by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control showed how easily the coronavirus can spread in a crowded office environment. In a call center where 216 employees worked on one floor, 94 of those people tested positive for the virus. The investigators have come to believe this outbreak happened over the course of merely 16 days. A shocking 90+ percent of the cases were contracted in a densely clustered part of the office. The ability to space people out in combination with a reasonable amount of ventilation and sanitation would have drastically decreased the infection rate. For instance, a cubicle would prevent something like a cough from traveling across a table. However, it should be noted there are some worries that the contained cubicle could retain infectious droplets which would put anyone who walks in at risk. It should be stressed that all employees keep their areas sanitized.
Did you know a sneeze could blast potentially infectious droplets as far as 27 feet away and coronavirus could possibly live on some nonporous surfaces like plastic for up to three days? A “sneeze guard” is one low-cost and high impact measure to help protect employees. Frequently touched surfaces, such as a coffee pot or door handles, should not be ignored. In the wake of this pandemic we must adapt our office spaces to keep everyone happy and healthy. New office practices and layouts will be weighing heavily on decision makers minds.
Check back next week for part 2 where we further discuss the future of office spaces and changes that could be coming down pipeline.