From the first day, I walked into Creative Strategies in 1981, I was privileged to have my own office. And in the other jobs, I held before going to CS, I also had my own office, which afforded me privacy and the ability to work in solitude if I wanted to do so.
However, my working life was very white-collar and private offices were the norm for many people until, in the late 1980s, we began to see newer open space models emerge when it came to office building designs.
That is when the cubicle office designs emerged but even then, these cubicles were spaced in ways that each cubicle had good space and privacy to work.
However, the most recent trend in office design has shifted to complete open spaces where people literally sit two to three feet of each other with no space dividers at all. I recently visited one of my clients who decided to adopt this ultra open space design where thousands of their workers sit side by side to do their daily jobs.
These truly open space office designs are controversial. Besides having no privacy if you sit shoulder to shoulder with work colleagues, all calls can be heard by anyone in earshot and the actual noise factor goes up in this kind of working environment. And many surveys show that workers are very unhappy with these new open space office designs.
For years, when I went to a client’s office to work, I almost always was given a spare office or, at the very least, a spare cubicle to work. But in my recent trip to this client who has this open workspace, I had to work next to a programmer who had a headset on and was just focused on coding. On the other side of me was a person handling customer complaints. I found it very difficult to work in this environment. Perhaps I am just an old fogey and too conditioned to have more private workspaces in order to be productive.
If open office space workers had wished they could go back to private offices or at the very least, separated cubicles, their wish may be about to come to pass.
I am hearing from people involved with getting people back to work and one thing that seems to be mandatory will be that social distancing will become a necessity if companies are to bring workers back into their companies. In fact, office space dividers and cubicle walls, which were mostly junked when open office spaces emerged, are now in great demand as companies anticipate the potential of new rules on social distancing needed to be implemented before workers can be allowed back into the office.
What is interesting about this is that it could force companies to allocate a certain amount of workers to home permanently or allow them to work in the office on a rotating basis. If they have to space workers who are now in open space environments shoulder-to-shoulder at least six feet apart, the amount of desk space per person changes dramatically.
This is just one thing about how the COVID-19 isolation orders could impact our offices of the future. WFH could become more mainstream and office designs for workers will change for good. There will be others rules that will come out that will force change in the office, but this is perhaps the biggest one a company will have to deal with as they slowly bring workers back to their campuses in the near future.