Cubicles Make a Serious Comeback During the Coronavirus Crisis
In recent years, there’s been a marked shift in the way office environments operate, most notably in the seating arrangements. Where rows of cubicles once allowed companies to provide a large staff with relatively private space to work, without the cost of building out individual offices, more recent layouts have included a more open and collaborative workspace, devoid of dividers, or with only minimal division.
While such seating arrangements have allowed for the implementation of team work stations and easier collaboration, an argument could be made that this strategy makes it more difficult for individual employees to focus, and creates an environment where employees may feel like they’re under constant scrutiny. That said, it looks like a new shift is underway, due to COVID-19. What can companies and workers expect?
First and foremost, companies wishing to bring employees back from forced remote operations will have to comply with guidelines for social distancing, which means creating a minimum six feet of distance between each employee. This will definitely eliminate shared workspaces like groups of desks facing each other that have gained popularity over the last few years.
It will also likely limit the number of employees that can be housed in any given space at one time. For businesses that don’t want to spend the money to expand square footage in order to accommodate their work force, this could mean allowing some employees to remain in the remote workforce, or alternately, create an A/B schedule for different groups of employees to come to the office on alternating days, for example.
Even with socially distanced desks, it’s worrisome to have a large group of employees working in an open space. For this reason, cubicle dividers or safety screens of some sort are likely to be implemented.
According to a study conducted by Florida Atlantic University, when a person coughs without covering the mouth, the airborne droplets can travel more than 8 feet, well beyond the 6-foot social distancing recommendations. This distance was reduced to just over 3.5 feet with a bandana and only 2.5 inches with a quilted cotton mask.
For companies that don’t intend to enforce mask-wearing in the office environment, this obviously poses a serious risk of disease spread. One obvious way to minimize risks is to place cubicle walls or other suitable barriers around individual work spaces.
In addition to creating new layouts, businesses will also have to implement new health and safety policies and procedures, such as mandatory masks and increased office cleaning and sanitization. You may have to improve ventilation, add sanitizing stations, and provide employees with individual use items to cut down on high-touch surfaces.
With proper social distancing, isolated work spaces, and proper sanitization and other considerations, you have the best opportunity to create a safe and healthy office environment for employees and clients.