COVID-19 has triggered a number of changes in the modern workplace. In the wake of this global pandemic, many employers are rethinking the once praised open floor plan office now that shared spaces are a public health risk. In a time where social distancing has become the new normal for the indefinite future, will open-concept offices survive?
What is an Open Office Floor Plan?
An open office floor plan layout eliminates most private offices and personal workspaces to facilitate a collaborative work environment. Employees may have an assigned desk or space; however, there is minimal separation between coworkers. Many technology companies, including Facebook and Google, use open floor plan offices to inspire innovation and creativity among workers.
While open-concept office floor plans offer numerous benefits in creativity, learning, energy and teamwork, they also present some alarming challenges. A barrier-free space can be intrusive and distracting, leading to increased tension and simple mistakes. Many argue that the benefits that open floor plans offer outweigh the disadvantages.
The Uncertain Future of the Open Floor Plan
The open-concept office floor plans that so many companies have embraced are now a health hazard for employees returning to the workplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using barriers between coworkers, customers and clients to prevent the spread of disease from physical contact or respiratory droplets. While some companies plan to modify their corporate open floor concept to meet CDC guidelines, others consider the pandemic to be the end of the line for the open floor plan office.
A plexiglass barrier (or sneeze guard) may force the return of the cubicle-like office layout for some businesses. Other employers may keep their employees at home permanently or until they are able to return to the building safely, rather than rearranging workspaces. Other companies may be able to spread a smaller number of employees out or alternate shifts for certain workgroups to preserve their open floor plan.