Could COVID-19 Kill the Open-Office Floor Plan?

Diverse multi-ethnic workers work together in shared , co-working office space

In an effort to save money – or to increase collaboration, as some tech companies claim – many businesses have opted out of private offices and cubicles, in favor of open-office floor plans and co-working spaces. However, the arrival of evermore contagious and dangerous infections, such as COVID-19, could bring an end to these modern workplace models.

Health Concerns with Open Office Floor Plans

The coronavirus isn’t the first time the health issue of open office floor plans has been raised. In fact, several studies over the past few years have shown that employees in open office environments take significantly more sick days than those in traditional office spaces.

Read 3 Disadvantages of an Open Office Floor Plan.

When everyone is sharing the same space, it is much harder to avoid germs and exposure to illness. Maybe that’s not a major concern when the most serious hazard is the seasonal flu, but with the emergence of the more dangerous coronavirus, the stakes are a lot higher.

Just one rogue sneeze or cough can wipe out your whole team, or be passed around the office for months, and that is precisely the problem with COVID-19. It travels through respiratory drops, and is spread from coughing, sneezing, or talking between people within 6 feet of each other.

Health Concerns with Co-Working Spaces

While shared office spaces offer flexibility and provide networking opportunities, they can also be a hotbed for infection. Because most co-working offices pay rent by the square foot, but charge members by the desk, it makes financial sense to squeeze in as many desks as possible. On average, that means just 65 to 100 square feet per worker – well within the 6 feet needed to transmit an airborne illness like COVID-19.

An additional concern in a co-working space is the contamination of hard surfaces, particularly in offices where there are no assigned seats. Although we don’t know definitively yet, current data suggests that the coronavirus may live on surfaces for several hours, or even days. With many different workers rotating through offices and desks, it’s much more likely that they’ll come into contact with contaminated surfaces.

How to Prevent the Spread of Illness at the Office

When working remotely is not an option, employees should practice “social distancing” at the office, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from each other whenever possible. Business travel should be avoided and face-to-face meetings should be replaced with conference calls and virtual meetings. The use of hand sanitizers, disinfecting sprays and wipes can reduce the prevalence of germs and viruses by as much as 85%, and frequent hand washing is a must, particularly after touching door handles, the office coffee pot, refrigerator handle and microwave. If you have a shared mouse and keyboard in your conference rooms, wipe them down with disinfecting wipes before and after each use.

For more ways to stay healthy, check out these 10 Tips for Avoiding Sickness at the Office.

Planning to avoid germs at the office by working from home? Here are some tips to help you make the transition to working remotely.