At the dawn of the last decade, a few Silicon Valley companies came together with a crazy idea: “What if we designed an office that people actually enjoyed working in?”. Ten years later, offices with ball rooms, ping pong tables and slides were popping up everywhere. “Collaborative” or “Creative Workspaces” are used by companies like Google, Facebook, Lego, Shopify as well as ad agencies all around the world. But now with the Covid-19 virus very much at large, these creative workspaces have become unsafe, leaving office managers wondering whether to abandon them or adjust.
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of a creative workspace is the way they look. In direct contrast to the claustrophobic nature of a cubicle office, creative workspaces are open and bright with uniquely designed common areas. Creative workspaces allow creative companies to put their style on display, showing potential employees and clients the kind of originality and innovation that can be expected of them.
Another advantage to creative office spaces is the increases they bring to productivity. At their core, creative spaces encourage collaboration. Workers are more likely to socialize and as a result, work more effectively. While more socialization might imply less productivity, statistics show that the opposite is true. A study done by Harvard Business Review followed a pharmaceutical company that had recently redone their office in a way that encouraged more interactions between coworkers. They discovered that their workers increased their interactions with other departments by 10% which resulted in sales increases of 10%. By the end of the first quarter following this redesign, sales had risen by $200 million—a 20% increase.
The BIG Con
COVID-19 is shining a bright light on one of the biggest downsides of creative workspaces; how quickly germs spread within them. Due to the high number of person to person interactions that occur within a creative workplace, the risk of spreading disease is very high. In a South Korean open concept office, one of 216 workers had contracted COVID-19. Two weeks later 97 of them were testing positive for the virus. Clearly, collaborative workspaces cannot function as they have historically, while COVID-19 is still at large.
Can we save the Creative Workspace?
Some companies have already begun implementing new strategies to keep their offices open and creative-friendly while preventing the spread of disease. In the Netherlands, real estate company Cushman & Wakefield has developed the “6 Feet Office” based around the 6 feet social distancing rule. By plotting efficient routes through an office that prevents physical contact, installing special work spaces that keep people at safe distances and providing sanitizing equipment to prevent the spread of germs, they believe they have created a collaborative office that can thrive during these germ-ridden times. You can read more about it on their website.
You may be asking yourself how soon you can return to your creative workspace.
Public Health professionals are telling us to take it slow, but for those who are keen to get back, installing plexiglass dividers in workplaces and the liberal use of disinfectant is a good place to start. They also recommend investing in hands free technology wherever possible, such as infrared scans, facial recognition, and voice activated technology as they greatly reduce the spread of germs on shared surfaces. Some are recommending tactics such as staggering workforce hours and days to limit the numbers of workers in a space. Most importantly they advise that if a worker is feeling under the weather they should work from home.
Whether to return or not are questions that every company is facing on a nearly daily basis. Sadly, there isn’t a clear answer for when or how we can enjoy the benefits of collaborative workspaces without stress. Not just yet.