The open office is a breeding ground for Coronavirus — and workers are freaked out

Open offices were supposed to revolutionize the workspace by offering additional space for more workers with an aim to enhance collaboration and breathability from the cramped cube-farms of the working past. But in the midst of the global coronavirus crisis, it can be a breeding ground for your workers by essentially allowing the disease to spread rapidly.

Think about it. The modern workplace might have assigned desks, but workers in open offices are encouraged to roam freely wherever their creativity can take off. In cases when someone has a cold, they may stay seated at their desk before they go someplace else for a change of scenery, to the lunching area where they eat, or even to a couch. Then someone else sits there and moves into a conference room and then to the bathroom and… you see the point.

The Wall Street Journal crunched the numbers and found that the average office space per seat in North America declined by more than 14% between 2018 and 2019 to 195.6 square feet, citing data provided by brokerage firm JLL’s Occupancy Benchmarking Report.

What does that mean? Employees are sitting closer to each other than ever before while open offices encourage workers to branch out and find comfort from any place in the office. There are certainly arguments for how an open office plan can make workers feel more included and less stressed, but it’s open offices are certainly a double-edged sword.

Often open offices include perks for betting work-life such as gaming areas or pets in the office, but those benefits often cause nearly all employees to feel distracted by their co-workers, and now, your open office design has employees worked about their health.

A recent consumer survey from PR firm Bospar found that more than half of workers are worried about contracting the coronavirus this year, with nearly half of Americans planning to cancel trips as the virus spreads. But the most troubling finding was how open office had Americans worried sick about contracting COVID-19.

Half of Americans (50.6%) were worried that they’d catch the infection due to their workplace which was an open office. Nearly 53% of participants said they believed open offices will lead to an increase in coronavirus infections, with more than a third (35.9%) saying companies should have employees work from home to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

“Open office spaces are among the worst for COVID-19, particularly if they are sealed office spaces without open ventilation and the air is just recirculated within the building,” E Hanh Le, M.D., senior director of medical affairs at Healthline, said in a press release. “That’s because, like with other communicable airborne illnesses, COVID-19 is spread from coughing, sneezing, or talking as the virus travels through respiratory drops. Current data suggests that the virus may also survive on surfaces for several hours, if not days, but we do not know that definitively yet. To reduce the risk of spreading infection, concerned companies should enforce work from home policies to keep contagion down.”

Companies have started to shutter offices in the wake of the coronavirus. Silicon Valley has essentially shutdown, according to CNET. Apple CEO Tim Cook encouraged staffers in a letter to work from home due to the outbreak, while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella followed suit by encouraging employees at their Seattle and San Francisco locations to work remotely until later this month.

In New York, multiple offices have closed shop in the last few days. Gap Inc. closed its New York City offices after an employee tested positive for coronavirus, according to Bloomberg. Workers for New York Magazine and The Cut were told to stay home after an employee working at their Manhattan building tested positive.

Amazon asked employees at its New York and New Jersey offices to work remotely. An employee at one of Amazon’s Seattle offices tested positive for COVID-19, according to CNBC.