How Office Plans Could Change in a Post-Coronavirus World

Over the last two decades, many businesses have adopted open office plans that remove barriers like cubicle walls in order to create more space for employees to interact. According to recent studies, though, some modern office plans can actually discourage communication since so many employees go out of their way to avoid interacting with other staffers. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has made these distinctions irrelevant as offices across the country remain closed and employees work from home.

But while businesses wait for something resembling normalcy to return, many are considering how to adapt their offices for a post-Covid world. As a result, the dominance of open office plans may finally be at an end. Instead, some companies could bring back cubicles that come equipped with plexiglass sneeze-guards. Other potential additions include hand sanitizers installed at every desk, air filters that push air down rather than up, and more outdoor gathering space. Since these ideas are being developed by office design firms rather than public health officials, however, there’s doubts about how effective these measures will be in practice. “We are not infectious disease experts, we are simply furniture people,” said Tracy D. Wymer, vice president at the office furniture company Knoll.

Medical experts stress that there is no way for companies to lower the risk of infection down to zero. In reality, the best things that businesses can do is provide paid sick leave and not pack too many people into one office. At the same time, these ideas run counter to how many companies have operated for years. That’s why a number of analysts predict that working from home will continue to be a major trend even after the pandemic comes to a close. “You can’t put that genie back into the bottle,” said Susan Stick, a lawyer working with the startup Evernote. 

Questions:

  1. Why are the days of open office plans likely at an end?
  2. Do you think companies should allow employees to continue working from home after the pandemic ends? Why or why not?

Source: Matt Richtel, “The Pandemic May Mean the End of the Open-Floor Office,” The New York Times, May 4, 2020.

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