The end of open offices?

Over the past seven weeks, more than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment. President Trump is looking for the states to relax their social distancing guidelines, but the number of virus cases is still rising. The CDC has prepared guidelines to reopen the country, but the administration has rejected them stating they are too “prescriptive.” The guidance, while not being currently available to the public, was intended to help establish measures that keep the virus from spreading once areas begin reopening. Economists are not optimistic that economies will rebound quickly. Even as restrictions lift, people will remain leery of being in public places with large groups of people. Further adding to fears are the increased number of cases of the virus in the states that are relaxing restrictions.

The latest buzz phrase is the “Covid slump.” The mental anxiety that is associated with increased unemployment and delays with small business loans are causing people to become less optimistic. The global economy is headed toward a recession. “The key thing to realize is that we aren’t facing a conventional recession, at least so far. For now, most job losses are inevitable, indeed necessary: They’re a result of social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus. That is, we’re going into the economic equivalent of a medically induced coma.”[1] The economy is essentially on life-support. Likely once people start to venture out again, there will be a ramping up period before you see a packed restaurant or a standing-room only sporting event. However, bringing back the economy will require increased interaction among people.

 

 

As economies look to reopen, corporate America looks to start moving employees from their work from home spaces back to their offices. “As curbs are eased, offices are being redesigned to minimize transmission risk and prevent a second wave of coronavirus cases, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned could hit the United States hard next winter.”[2] Just because we are beginning to see more personal interaction does not mean that the problem is solved. A vaccine will likely take years to develop, test and become available to the masses. Experimental treatments are being trialed, but there is no current, immediate cure.

Indications are that office spaces will need to adapt to new distance guidelines instead of remaining status quo. While some companies may allow more employees to work from home part or most of the time, others will require people be in the office. Designs that had once focused on an open office concept are being reconfigured in China to visually allow employees to see where 6-foot boundaries are located. Other options are the installation of plexi-glass between desks and one-way hallways. Retail locations in the U.S. are installing measures like the dividers between employees and customers, and it can be seen from grocery stores to fast food drive thrus. Life, as we knew it, was forced to change abruptly. Now the rebuilding process must be evaluated in correlation with the learning and advances that companies must establish their future visions.

[1] https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/opinion/times-commentary/story/2020/apr/03/krugman-covid-19-slump-haa-arrived/519866/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-workplace/the-end-of-the-open-plan-office-workspaces-get-post-pandemic-makeovers-idUSKBN22H2BC

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