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The End of the Open Office?

The End of the Open Office?

The End of the Open Office?

How COVID-19 has changed the way we work

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way we have all been working since March 2020. The great 'work from home' experiment, as it has been coined, has sent thousands of workers out of the office and to the sofa. The question everybody is asking is, what changes have to be made to make it safe to return to the office? The simple answer is increased cleaning, more space between employees and staggered shifts.

How will COVID-19 impact office design?

We are all familiar with open-plan offices. They have been used for many years due to their benefits in cultivating a collaborative culture. However, the coronavirus pandemic may deem this unsafe for employees as germs can easily be passed on in this layout. Because of this, we may see a rise in personal work booths and work pod seating arrangements to fight the spread of the virus.

It could be argued that this will decrease collaboration in the office. Alternatively, it could actually increase productivity as employees are less distracted. Managing Director of Nick Riesel believes that break out rooms will see a rise in demand to find a happy medium. Such rooms could be introduced for informal meetings or coffee breaks to help employees feel connected to one another, so long as hygienic safety precautions are taken. 

Employees may ask, if we're using a closed layout, we may as well be working from home? Well, some businesses still find that overall, productivity is higher in an office. This is because problems can be dealt with swiftly and employees can learn from one another with ease. Offices sometimes also help workers feel they're more included, and like they are all on a shared mission.

Instead of cubicles, protective desk screens could be used to mimic a closed office. Screens don't fully close off employees from each other and are a relatively inexpensive solution. Open-plan spaces can be made safer by having half of the workforce work from home. By allowing the most vulnerable to stay at home, it would allow space to have desks at a safe distance. Employees could also work rotating shifts as long as extensive cleaning takes place in between. 

Regardless of what companies’ strategies are, we will not see a dramatic return to the cubicle, at least not by anyone that wants a productive, effective workplace” says corporate real estate consultant Anthony Slumbers.

How long will office changes last?

Most importantly, employers should consider how flexible their office layout is. Does it allow for experimentation to find what works best for each company? Social distancing is vital right now, but in the future, it may not be so necessary. Offices could return to current ways, and the open-plan office could be back. Therefore when choosing a new layout, companies should be conscious that it can be reverted to its original format easily and with minimal cost.