The open-plan office is, and always was,  the world's dumbest management fad. While it seemed intuitively obvious that putting everybody into one big room should increase collaboration and innovation, the reality turned out to be exactly the opposite.

Once a management fad takes hold, however, it can take years and even decades for reality to intrude itself. Thus, despite mountains of research showing that open-plan offices were productivity disasters, most companies continued to cling to the concept.

It took a pandemic to finally convince woodenheaded managers, even at  hidebound tech giants like Apple, that most office work (very much including engineering) can be done as productively or even more productively from home.

However, the superiority of working from home over open-plan offices may not be because working from home is incredibly productive; it could very much be the result of the open-plan office being such a wretchedly stupid idea in the first place.

The myriad shortcomings of open-plan offices aside, there are probably some advantages to having workers located where they can communicate face-to-face. Some, activities, like mentoring, are awkward online, and serendipitous online meetings are oxymoronic.

Nevertheless, companies that want their employees to start commuting again are getting huge pushback. And with the great resignation underway, few are willing to antagonize their best employees by insisting they go return to the status quo ugly.

The solution to the dilemma, however, is actually quite simple: Make your central office a more desirable place to work than the home offices that your employees currently prefer.

That this means jettisoning the open-plan concept goes without saying. The real question now is: What are the characteristics of an ideal centralized workplace that might convince employees that they'd be happier and healthier coming into the office? Here are three:

1. Private offices.

What workers hate most about open-plan offices is that they're noisy and distracting, and the cafeteria-like environment makes it impossible to have discussions and interactions without everybody overhearing everything. It's not a matter of trying to be secretive; it's just that it's rude to be chattering when others are trying to get work done.

The obvious solution here is to give employees private offices, ideally offices that have windows with outside views. Such offices should be large enough to tolerate two or even three visitors at one time, thus making it possible to have small, informal discussions.

One model that's worked well for Pixar is the "hub and spoke," where private offices are grouped around a common area, thereby providing opportunities for social interaction and serendipitous contact without impinging on the individual employees' needs for a quiet, private place to work.

Most important, though, private offices prevent the spread of contagious diseases. Even when somebody comes in while sick, a single sneeze won't put everyone else at risk.

2. Top quality equipment.

Most WFHers use a laptop to get their work done. However, working on a laptop, even a high-end one, involves a lot of bending over and squinting. Laptop keyboards also tend to be cramped and difficult to use.

Similarly, I've seldom met an office worker who didn't have some kind of complaint about back pain. WFH can make this worse, because many WFHers use dining room chairs or kitchen stools. If they buy an office chair for their home office, it's usually something cheap.

By contrast, a private office with a huge, high-resolution screen hung at eye-level, and a top-of-the-line keyboard positioned exactly where it's the most comfortable for the individual is a real perk for anyone who puts in long hours. Add a $1,000 ergonomic chair, and you've created a work environment that will make your employees' home offices look comparatively unattractive.

3. Pay them to commute.

Commuting to work is, well, work. Thus, if an employee works 10 hours a day and it's a one hour commute each way to the central office, commuting to a workplace rather than WFH, is in effect a 20 percent pay cut. Employees naturally expect and deserved to be compensated for that time. At the very least, employees who drive to work should be paid the IRS standard of $0.56 a mile to reflect wear and tear on their vehicles. Similarly, employees who take public transit should have their fares and parking fees paid. Why should your employees subsidize your desire to have them present in a central office?

Another way to increase compensation to account for the extra effort of commuting is to enforce reasonable working hours rather than demand the 10 hour workdays (i.e., permanent crunch time) that had become the norm in many industries prior to the pandemic. Contrary to popular belief, shorter work hours don't mean that less work will get done, since regardless of the number of hours spent in an office workplace, the average worker does only about three hours of actual productive work. In companies that demand long work hours, the result is mostly longer periods of performative seat-warming and socializing.