I read “The End of Open-Plan Everything” by Amanda Mull with a certain level of amusement. I’ve always disliked cubicles and open offices, although we were forced by circumstance to use open office space for a while. I’ve written about open offices several times before, so what’s new? Coronavirus.
The popularity of open offices was on the decline before the pandemic, for the reasons discussed in the articles I mention at the links above, but the fear of catching a deadly disease from someone sitting next to you, or across from you, is a powerful motivator. We’ll see how this all plays out, but the increase in people working from home will reduce the need for office space, and the desire to create private or semi-private offices will increase that need. I suspect it will be a wash, but I’m just guessing. Google’s recent announcement that many office workers would be working from home until next summer certainly suggests the possibility that many will never return to the office space.
I have some minor quibbles with Ms. Mull’s piece – for example, “Many offices were first partially opened for mid-century secretarial pools…” seems a bit off. The picture above is from the early 40s and there are plenty of earlier and more open examples. But she nails an important point: whatever the architectural rationale and benefits are, they were quickly overtaken by cost. It’s the same reason glass curtain walls became so popular in the 60s: it’s not that every corporate big-shot had been converted to international-style modernism, it’s that glass was cheaper than masonry.
This is just another way that life in 2021 will be trending differently than life in 2011. There will be more.