HomeDesign|Office Inspiration|RenovationDoes Coronavirus Mean the End of Open Offices?
Open office environment with collaborative area near individual workstations.

Does Coronavirus Mean the End of Open Offices?

Love them or hate them, open offices have made a big impact in the world of workplace design. The growth of open offices has been driven by several different factors. People commonly reported feeling disconnected while working in cubicles, and many companies were interested in having spaces that are highly collaborative and have the flexibility to easily change their layout as the company grows. But while open offices often have good intentions behind them, they have received their share of criticism. Many workers complained that the lack of privacy makes it hard for them to focus and makes it easy for germs to spread.

Anyone who has ever worked in an office has likely experienced an “office bug” making the rounds, whether they’ve caught it themselves or have had several colleagues call in sick because of it. Given how quickly colds and flus can spread throughout an office, concerns about the spread of coronavirus as people return to the workplace are extremely valid. And considering how controversial open offices already were before the pandemic, lots of people are wondering whether or not open offices will quickly become a thing of the past. 

Right now, it’s extremely difficult to predict how, exactly, coronavirus will impact workplaces in the long run, but we think open offices will still have a place in a post-COVID world. Converting a workplace to create private offices is a major project, and there may still be other practical reasons to want to keep that open office plan in the future. They’re also much more popular than a segmented environment. It will just take some time for spaces to be fully occupied again. Right now, we don’t recommend making drastic, permanent changes to adapt your space since we don’t yet know what “the new normal” will mean once we have a vaccine. Instead, we recommend making as many temporary changes as possible to help people work safely in open offices.

As companies prepare for people to return to the office, the flexibility of open plan offices can be very helpful. Very often, companies need to significantly reconfigure their layouts to improve social distancing, and the lack of permanent walls in open offices makes this a much easier process than it would be otherwise and gives you more freedom to find a solution that works for you. 

Individual workstations in an open office on opposite sides of a room.Before the pandemic, benching workstations that put people in close contact with their coworkers were a common sight in open offices. Since those are no longer ideal for the needs of today’s world, more workstations may need to be created to give people more space to spread out. For extra protection, benching workstations can be fitted with plexiglass or glass partitions to provide extra protection while still allowing for a sense of openness. 

Because they are so easy to clean, glass and plexiglass partitions are preferable to soft, upholstered partitions for workstations. However, the addition of hard surfaces leads to another problem: noise. Instead of using soft partitions to help absorb sound, we expect that acoustic control measures will become more focused on ceilings and walls since those areas are less likely to be touched. 

Open offices that had been using unassigned desks in their offices may see some of the most significant effects because of the pandemic. Concepts like hoteling and hot desking give people the flexibility to choose where they work, which may change on a day-to-day basis. But given the concerns people have about coming in contact with shared surfaces, switching to assigned seating is a good temporary solution. 

Not only do you need to think about the places people work, it’s important to think about the ways people interact with the workplace as a whole. How do people move around throughout the space? In many cases, companies are using signs and markings on the floor to establish one-way directions of traffic to prevent people from coming too close to each other. Are there any particular places where people tend to gather? You may also need to consider things that can discourage too many people from gathering in one place, such as removing furniture or creating policies that limit the number of people in those areas at a given time. 

One long-term change that might come as a result of the pandemic is that some offices could become more of a collaborative hub rather than a traditional 9-5 workplace, with people working remotely but coming into the office to collaborate with others as needed. In this case, an open office would still be an ideal setup since it makes it easier for people to work together.

Whether you need help adapting an open office to support social distancing or want to completely renovate your office, Premier Construction & Design can help you create a space that helps your employees return to the office safely. Contact us so that we can learn more about your project.