Will We See an End to Open-Plan Offices after Covid-19?

Posted on Monday, August 3, 2020 by The Workplace AdvisorNo comments

One of our recruitment agency consultants was recently chatting to someone who works in two different PA jobs in London, both part time. She’s involved in the return-to-office plans of both businesses and told us that she thinks we may see the end of the open-plan office trend. We thought it was a fascinating point so decided to look into it a little more.

The Wall Street Journal reported that open-plan offices are risky during the coronavirus pandemic because they provide fewer barriers to airborne germs. The science backs this up, revealing that open-plan offices result in 62% more sick leave! It’s quite remarkable that we haven’t considered this aspect of office life before.

The risk of spreading infection is very real for employers. If an employee tests positive for Covid-19, there’s a very real possibility that they don’t just lose that employee to recovery and isolation but that other employees may need to self-isolate for 14 days too. The office may also have to temporarily close for deep cleaning.

Also, employees are feeling anxious about returning to the office, especially where social distancing is concerned. It stands to reason that greater use of individual offices or cubicles rather than open-plan spaces, would help alleviate some of those concerns.

Why we like and don’t like about open-plan offices

Office support workers are often familiar with the advantages of open-plan offices. Most notably, they’re designed to facilitate collaboration. It’s much easier to know what’s going on across the team and to share information if there aren’t physical barriers in the way.

However, remote working from home has shocked many employers into realising that collaboration is possible when you can’t meet in person. Perhaps elements of how we’ve learned to collaborate virtually could be used within the office environment itself?

Those working in PA jobs are also familiar with the downsides of open-plan offices — and were before the pandemic. PAs often need to act discretely and confidentially. As a conduit between executives and other senior staff, they can be privy to information that shouldn’t be shared with those at the desks around them. This can mean nipping to meeting rooms to make phone calls or angling a screen awkwardly.

So what are employers doing?

It seems that many office-based London employers are carefully considering the issue of the open-plan offices as part of their plans to get people back safely. They’re putting in measures such as one-way systems and hand-sanitising stations. However, perhaps it’s time for many of them to consider greater usage of screening. Perhaps the open-plan office has had its day, and Covid-19 has just sped that up.

What do you think? Do you feel confident in your employer’s back-to-work plans? Or would you rather they put other measures in place?


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