In the Age of Covid, Is an Open Office Plan STILL a Good Idea?

Back in 2015, we posted an article that an open office plan may not be the best of ideas. The Wall Street Journal had printed a contrarian piece which posited the open office plan was too noisy and disruptive. Furthermore it reduced workplace productivity.

Based on their online survey, 67% felt that it was bad for productivity. 82% felt that hot-desking is not favorable. Of course, the strartup culture promoted cost savings. With that came increasing the density of employees on a floor. With time, hot-desking, which mean that employees share desks and don’t have dedicated desks, became more favorable. Furthermore, the coworking culture promoted by the likes of WeWork made hot-desking much more chic. The cloud further promoted the concept of hot-desking and allowed anyone to access their files from their laptop anywhere. Whether people liked it or not, it seemed the trend was slowly pushing more and more people towards hot-desking.

Now we fast forward to 2020 and the new Covid-19 reality, the idea of sharing anything seems so much less feasible. Dedicated offices and cubicles are beginning to sound more appealing. Who wants to be in an office with the person sitting right in front of you can sneeze or cough all over you.

Of course it is hard to determine today how the Covid-19 epidemic will affect behavior and office space layouts. Some say companies will be forced to rent more office space to accommodate more social distancing. Others say that the work from anywhere phenomena will become more common place. “I think we’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale, for sure,” Mr. Zuckerberg told employees a few weeks ago.

A recent June, 2019 article from Forbes describes how hot-desking is a fad that just destroys companies for reasons including that:

  • “it sends the message that your employees don’t matter”
  • “interrupts on the job training”
  • serendipitous meetings can’t happen
  • its much harder to ask your colleagues for help

Despite the warnings, it seems that productivity has been maintained by many working from home in the post-Covid world.

As industry leaders like Facebook institute sweeping changes to workspace occupancy, expect many others to follow. Does this mean, we should expect companies shed millions of square feet of office space? It’s tough to say. It may just mean that office spaces will be more gracious and comfortable for the employees that do decide to come into the office. Perhaps this all part of the process of achieved a better work life balance.

three people working in the lounge of a coworking space
Too close for comfort?