My Inc.com colleague Geoffrey James memorably called open-plan offices "the dumbest management fad of all time." And with good reason. Not only do many workers loathe the interruption-prone, privacy-free spaces, but science shows they don't even achieve their stated aim of fostering greater collaboration.
The current pandemic is a heart-breaking tragedy of epic proportions, but according to experts, it might at least have one small silver lining. Maybe, just maybe it will spell the end of the hated open-plan office.
More walls, fewer germs
Across the web, a ton of smart architecture and design experts are speculating about what post-pandemic offices will look like, highlighting changes like better air filtration and different finishes. While these articles are jam-packed with innovative ideas to cut the risk of contagion, all of them also feature one simple but welcome solution: more walls.
"When you reach your floor, you could walk into a room full of dividers and well-spaced desks instead of the crowded open floor plan you're used to," writes Recode's Rani Molla, envisioning a stroll through a post-pandemic office. Speaking with several experts, she concludes we'll see more dividers of all types when we eventually head back to the office (at least occasionally, as many will keep working from home).
"Social distancing will be built in, with people divided by barriers and kept apart from colleagues and customers, a U-turn after years of movement toward open floor plans," agrees a similar piece from Bloomberg News.
This repeated prediction isn't a huge shock. Studies have shown for years that open-plan setups facilitate the spread of germs, increasing the odds of employees' getting sick.
All this means employers will need to find creative solutions to get work done even though far fewer people can safely fit in the same space. Continued work-from-home arrangements will certainly be part of the answer, but creative reconfiguring of your physical office is likely to be necessary too.
That's a headache for facilities managers and bosses, but better news for open-plan office haters. In a post-coronavirus world, you will almost certainly have more privacy at work. In trade for that personal space, however, expect to submit to measures like temperature checks, half-empty break rooms, and a whole lot of hand sanitizer.