Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

All the warnings pre-pandemic researchers in the area of open plan offices have of course come home to roost. The article below links to a new edition of a much awarded book by Joseph G. Allen and John D. Macomber titled Healthy Buildings first published in 2020 and updated in October 2022 with additional research conducted during the pandemic. Given the expense of the enactment of the open plan ideology pre-pandemic and the resistance of workers in returning to these buildings, it will be interesting to see at what rate any physical change occurs.

Warning: most of this article is behind a paywall but there is enough to give you the idea.

The healthiest way to design an office post-COVID means a lot of companies will need a complete overhaul
by L’Oreal Thompson Payton, Yahoo Finance. Tue, November 8, 2022 at 7:45 AM

Modern offices are in dire need of a makeover. The once-omnipresent open-plan offices of the early 2000s are now seeing a decline in popularity due to COVID and the rise in hybrid work settings. An op/ed from New York Times lambasted open-plan offices for their noise and damage to morale and productivity, as well as overall health.

“For 40 years, we’ve been in the sick building era,” says Joseph G. Allen, director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program and associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We have not designed, maintained or operated our buildings with health as the North Star. This has been well documented. But now with COVID, it became obvious that the way you operated your building determined whether people got sick or not and for many businesses determined whether they could stay open.”

As a result, Allen believes that healthy buildings have to become a core business strategy, so much so that he wrote a book about it with John D. Macomber, senior lecturer of business administration at Harvard Business School. In their book, Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity, Allen and Macomber share The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building:

The article above links to an excellent opinion piece by David Brooks in The New York Times titled: The Immortal Awfulness of Open Plan Workplaces

Oscar Wilde is said to have quipped that “God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.” Our species is capable of folly on a grand scale. Exhibit No. 4,000 in this litany of woe is the continued existence of open plan workplaces.

For decades, research has found that open plan offices are bad for companies, bad for workers, bad for health and bad for morale. And yet they just won’t die. Human beings, if they are to thrive, need a bit of privacy — walls and a door. And yet employers, decade after decade, neglect to give workers what they need, refuse to do what’s in their own self-interest.

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