July/August 2020 – Facing the Music

With a mission to inform, empower, celebrate and advocate for British Columbia's current and aspiring business leaders, BCBusiness go behind the headlines and bring readers face to face with the key issues and people driving business in B.C.

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In the 1960s, a new style of office design debuted to accommodate a desire for increased flexibility and social interaction. The new interior design concept, known as burolanschaft, incor- porated plants and other decorations into the office landscape, allowing workers to express their humanity as they completed their duties. Burolanschaft served as the foundation for today's open-plan office, a work area that has no private offices or cubicles. COVID-19 and the Cubicle Public health officials recommend that people of all ages engage in social distancing, the practice of maintaining physical distance between each other. For social distancing to be effective, people should stay at least 6 feet away from each other at all times. The open-plan office design makes it almost impossible to adhere to these standards, as open offices encourage employees to sit close to each other at workstations or rows of desks. The Occupational Safety and Health Admin- istration also recommends that employers install physical barriers to prevent the virus from spreading. Physical barriers are one of the most cost-effective ways to protect employees against COVID-19, and they don't require employees to change their behaviour. As a result, many employers are now abandoning the open office to return to the cubicle farm. Cubicle walls make an excellent physical barrier, and they also make it easier for employees to follow social distancing guidelines. Employee Collaboration Open-plan offices are touted as a great way to increase collaboration. After all, if employees are close to each other, they'll interact more frequently, right? Not exactly. In a 2019 article published in Harvard Business Review, Ethan Bernstein and Ben Waber explain that the rise of the open-plan office has not had the effect on collaboration that designers and managers hoped. Although this design eliminates barriers between employees, it doesn't make employees more likely to communicate. If workers don't feel like talking, they'll go out of their way to avoid their colleagues, even if they can't hide behind office or cubicle walls. Now that COVID-19 is a threat, employers are reconsidering cubicles, which give employees the added bonus of hun- kering down and getting their work done without interruption. Productivity Even when open offices increase collaboration, they can have a detrimental effect on productiv- ity. In his study to determine how office design affects productivity, Dr. Barry Haynes of Sheffield Hallam University found that one of the biggest Due to COVID-19, the Office Cubicle is Making its Triumphant Return BACK TO BASICS P R O M O T E D C O N T E N T

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