The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating workers’ worries about returning to jobs in these often debated floor plans.
Distracting, intrusive, and now a potential health hazard. The list of grievances against crowded open office floor plans is mounting, and as state officials mull how to safely reopen offices shuttered by the coronavirus, some people are wondering whether the design is on its way out the door.
“Before [the coronavirus outbreak], I requested to move to a corner desk to kind of get away from the coworkers who were more social and talkative,” says Ayla Larick, an employee at a Texas insurance broker. Larick is set to return to her office on May 1, as Texas reopens non-essential businesses, though her asthma puts her at heightened risk for COVID-19 complications, and she’s requested an extension to work remotely.
“I am a little nervous about returning, only because I’m less than six feet away from three other people the entire time I’m working on my computer,” she says.
Most companies are only just beginning to think about how they might change their corporate workspaces, with some experts saying the open floor plan could be redone with better consideration for personal space and stricter cleaning schedules. Others, however, say the pandemic is the final straw for the open office.
“The broad stroke is that the open office is over, [but] there’s a bunch of different things that that means,” says Amol Sarva, CEO of office interior design firm Knotel, whose clients include Uber and Netflix.
In the long run, Sarva says, getting back to work is not just about floor plans, but about a dramatic shift in office life as we know it.