Cubicles became popular during the late 1960s and 1970s, giving office workers a defined space of their own. It offered a sense of privacy that until that point was only enjoyed by corner suite executives.
Then in the early 2000s, Silicon Valley tech giants broke the partition mold and replaced cubicles with portable workstations. Laptop-toting employees could plop down on sofas, cafeteria-style tables and bar stool seating, sharing conversations and snacks as they navigated the workday.
Open floorplans foster collaboration and creativity, have low build-out costs, easily accommodate layout changes and create feelings of comfort and comradery.
Unfortunately, open floorplans also offer little protection to thwart the spread of COVID-19.
Cubicles, once maligned in TV commercials and sitcoms as indicators of mundane corporate life, are making a comeback across Southwest Florida. Those partitions serve a valuable purpose, offering an added layer of protection between employees who work in shared spaces.
In March and April, many professional offices closed and allowed employees to work from home. Not every industry is conducive to remote work, but before allowing employees to return to the office, companies needed to make sure the workplace was safe. In the late spring and early summer, OFDC Commercial Interiors supplied multiple businesses with Rapid Response Screens and Harbor Screens, temporary barriers attached to desks that offer physical separation between employees.
By mid-summer, it became apparent that COVID-19 wasn’t going to vanish. And not only was the virus going to linger, but social distancing would be a thing for the foreseeable future.
That meant cubicles would be making a comeback.
In the late summer and throughout the fall, many companies have chosen to reconfigure their interior spaces. When feasible, employees’ desks can be positioned such that individuals are back-to-back rather than facing each other. Desks can face toward walls rather than central spaces. Panels and screens between desks serve as not only a physical barrier between individuals, but also offer some degree of personal and emotional comfort for COVID-wary employees.
Cubicles come in all shapes and sizes:
- Low–wall cubicles allow employees to see over panels and make eye contact with employees while conversing, but might not necessarily stop droplets from spreading if someone coughs or sneezes.\
- High walls, generally around six feet, offer enhanced protection, but essentially cut off face-to-face interactions.
- Manufacturers now are making cubicles with translucent or clear plastic panels that offer ample protection while making a space still feel large and open.
- Rather than install traditional cubicles, some offices are positioning furniture so it creates natural barriers between employees, like putting bookcases back to back.
Businesses also have adopted more thorough cleaning protocols. That’s why many are upgrading desks, partitions and office equipment that are easier to clean and sanitize. OFDC debuted its Business Sanitization Essentials to help companies prepare for a safe return with essential products like hand sanitizers, masks and disinfectants.
Every type of business – medical providers, law firms, accounting and payroll firms, call centers, government offices and others – recognize they have a responsibility to keep employees safe. Cubicles, no matter how they’re portrayed on TV and movies, indeed are part of the solution.