In recent years, many companies have traded in their cubicles for open floor plans—a transition from stark, gray honeycombs to collaboration-based bullpens where you no longer have to wonder what crunchy, pungent meal your coworker is having for lunch. But as businesses look to return their employees to office buildings as cautiously as possible in the post-pandemic era, the walled-off cells of the late 20th century could be the best option.
Michael Boonshoft, a representative from Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm mapping out new office plans for its clients, told WIRED that people can expect to see “a lot of plexiglass.”
“Having that divider will make people feel safer. That shield between desks will be really important,” he said.
More than 1 million workers have already gone back to work at Cushman & Wakefield properties in China, where safety precautions include temperature checkpoints, masks, sanitizer, disposable desk covers, desk dividers, and a commitment to social distancing in meetings and other open areas. For businesses that don’t have enough square footage to keep individual workspaces at least 6 feet from each other—and don’t have the time or money needed for a full-fledged renovation—cubicles are an easy way to lessen the chances that germs will spread between neighboring coworkers.
“Partitions are really hot right now,” Ben Waber, president and co-founder of workplace analytics software provider Humanyze, told WIRED.
While cubicles, social distancing, and other safety precautions fall into the category of what Boonshoft calls “quick- and inexpensive-to-implement ideas,” some companies are exploring more controversial technologies to keep their employees healthy. Consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, has designed an app-based tool that can track employees’ locations in an office through their smartphones. Then, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can use the data for contact-tracing to pinpoint other workers who may be at risk.
Continuing to work from home will likely remain the safest course of action for many companies for the foreseeable future. If you work for one of them, here are seven ways to stay productive in your temporary home office.