quarantining the scourge of open offices

The whole concept of open offices was facing a huge backlash before the pandemic. Now, everyone across the globe is suddenly hyper-sensitive to their body’s relationship to other people. “Social distancing” became a global term in a matter of hours. People are afraid to even stand in a line at Starbucks, much more sitting 8-hours cheek-by-jowl next to some snotty, sneezing, loudmouth coworker who couldn’t find a seat in their own department area. And I think this hypochondria – rightfully so – will persist long into the future after this devastating global black swan event is over.

Over my career I’ve worked in a variety of office types and sizes, and by far my worst productive experience was at a large corporation that introduced a forced hot-desk/clean-desk policy in tightly cramped linear desk arrangements. They gladly eliminated entire building leases by stuffing all their employees into office arrangements purposefully loaded with 1.5 workers for every available seat — just like airlines that oversell their cheapo economy-class cabins to ensure that no seat – god-forbid-says-the-financial controller – ever goes empty. They called it “workplace innovation” and tried to put a whole positive HR/PR spin to it, but in reality the program was a blatant real-estate cost-cutting move introduced during a corporate downturn.

And trust me, employees see right through it. They know that the companies are refusing to invest in their employees, that the companies merely view them and their associated expenses (like office space) as costs to be minimized, not invested in.

The most effective companies invest in the well-being of their team. And once this pandemic and recession is over, I’m sure leading companies will certainly be looking at how to innovate their office experience far beyond cheap open office concepts.

My point: Lighting companies should be savvy that open offices are going to face a tough road ahead. And there is a ton of innovation potential in marrying lighting and digital displays to individual workstations, finally realizing the potential of so many concepts in lighting personalization, circadian lighting adjustments, and treating architecture as a portal to the virtual world.

Like this stunning concept from LG a few years back:

Sign me up for that office space! Imagine the personalization, ambient data streams and biological effects those desks offer?