I hate to keep harping on the same issue, but open plan offices spread disease. As I pointed out in a previous column:

An uncovered cough or sneeze creates a spray of up to 40,000 disease-ridden droplets that travel at up to 200 mph to a distance of up to 26 feet and stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes. These droplets can make you ill if you breathe them in or, if you avoid that, can stick to your clothes and skin to infect you later. Office walls, and to a lesser extent, cubicle walls, create barriers to these projectiles, greatly lessening the chance that one sick worker will make other workers sick.

The toxicity of the open plan office is bad enough when dealing with the common cold or the yearly flu season. If anything resembling an epidemic or pandemic hits the city where you've set up shop in an open plan office, all would take is one sneeze from one infected employee to expose everyone in the office.

Maybe this risk would be tolerable if open plan offices had any advantages other than increasing the amount of natural light. Multiple peer-reviewed studies have shown that open plan offices reduce both collaboration and productivity. They're literally the dumbest management fad of all time.

Ironically, the lower-cost, more productive alternative--working from home--is also the workplace that's the least likely to spread disease. Indeed, even as I write, businesses in China are scrambling to adapt to work-from-home, according to Bloomberg News. No doubt many executives and business owners in China are wishing they'd thought ahead and made work-from-home part of their corporate culture.

If you're a business owner or executive who's bought into this open plan office nonsense and especially if you've followed the lead of IBM and Yahoo and sharply limited work-from-home, this is the time--right now, today--to admit that you were wrong and move as quickly as possible to allow your employees to work remotely.

Seriously, don't wait until something like what's happening in China happens in your city. Because if it's not the coronavirus, it's going to be something else, eventually. Implement work-from-home now, while you still have time to do it in an orderly, planned fashion.

The survival of your company may literally depend on it.

Published on: Feb 2, 2020
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