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Will coronavirus bring back the cubicle?

A worker sits at a desk behind barriers and encased by a glass wall
REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Boxed in.
  • Nicolás Rivero
By Nicolás Rivero


About 70% of US offices are open-plan workspaces, designed to encourage colleagues to bump into each other and share ideas—and, unwittingly, droplets of spit, mucus, and phlegm that can carry pestilential pathogens. Health experts are beginning to suggest that might need to change.

Thomas Inglesby, who heads the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins, told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace that companies should look into “putting up physical barriers in workspaces when possible.” The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration also recommends that “workers use controls to prevent exposure, including physical barriers to control the spread of the virus.”

Even before the pandemic, open offices faced a sustained assault from researchers and op-ed writers who argued the design trend has counterintuitively reduced face-to-face interaction among workers, cranked up distractions, and lowered productivity. If companies heed the call for more physical barriers at work, one of the many lasting impacts of this crisis could be a shift away from open-plan designs and a revival of some incarnation of their dreaded predecessor: the cubicle.

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