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The End of Open Plan?

What will the world of work look like post-COVID? We've spent 20 years moving from offices to cubicles to open plan, where to now?


(of a room or building) having large rooms with few or no internal dividing walls.

What's Wrong with Open-Plan?

Well a little old thing called COVID-19 has spoiled the recently realised dreams of many companies who have converted their offices and workshops to enjoy an open plan layout. 

Open-plan has been slowly creeping into more and more workspaces, opening up communication between departments and different levels of seniority. It's responsible for a more collaborative team in many companies and fits more with the working practices of the younger generations. 

However, open-plan has its issues. Employees were concerned about having to listen in on their colleague's calls and employers about increased chatter and less productivity. These issues seem trivial these days as the inherent health risks to an open-plan office are glaringly obvious now we have been living through a pandemic. 

We've all seen offices with desks hardly a meter apart and only a short partition shielding the person opposite. That sort of environment will be breeding ground for a virus like COVID. But will we see a resurgence of the walls of yesteryear? Or perhaps huge walls of glass?

Personal Space is Back In Style

We don't think the world is ready to surrender to the walled offices and siloed workforces - but changes will have to be made. It's important to keep staff socially distant, disinfect everything as often as you can and for goodness sake cover your face when you sneeze Karen! Here are some suggestions on how to make your layout even safer without any construction work:


Probably the most obvious option, you don't have to build a wall, you can just buy a partition and keep germs away but still allow colleagues to see each other, converse and maintain the open working relationship we've all learnt to love (or tolerate, depending on the colleague!)

Avoid Hot Desking

This is the idea that staff don't have their own desk, so as there's usually a few people absent at any time you need fewer desks and thus less space. It was once hailed as the way forward, a cost-saving bit of ingenuity, but as Business First reports, research shows that hot-desking damages both morale and productivity in your workforce. The health implications of sharing desk space with another human should be the final nail in the coffin of this practice, give your staff their own space. 

 Remote Working

So many people have experienced remote working (WFH) through the pandemic and seen the benefits to their work/life balance, their petrol costs and the environment that, if they are willing and you are able, letting some staff work from home when possible would reduce human contact. 


Keeping teams isolated from other teams will not only prevent someone from spreading COVID through your whole company but might encourage staff to take the right precautions outside of work, as they will be better friends with their team and unconsciously more concerned for their health. 

That's just a few ideas to get you going - if you can minimise the people on-site, separate the ones who have to be there into small groups they collaborate with, avoid practices like hot-desking which shares touched surfaces with others and add clear partitions where you can't keep enough social distance then you should be on your way to a COVID safe workspace - without getting the builders in. 

Keeping Communications Open

Whether there's two of you or 200 of you, your team is important to your business. If you have to put up walls, remain socially distant and potentially work remotely, how will you all collaborate together?

The saviour through the pandemic has been technology. Tech has kept us closer, from Zoom calls to slack messages we're in touch all day every day - if we want to be. 

Side by side working can't be replaced, but we can certainly work around the restrictions for the best possible working solutions to keep everyone safe. 

Whatever the circumstances of your more distant working arrangements, ensure you keep in touch with all members of your team daily to ensure that the channels of communication remain open, no one should ever feel they can't reach out with a question or ask for a hand with something. 

Here at Sonder we all work remotely, it suits our business model and we're all very experienced marketeers, taking on all the tasks for ourselves and clients with confidence. Here are our top tips of keeping your team in touch, no matter how many walls, layers of perspex or meters are between you:

  • Say hi! Just so everyone knows who's in and that everyone is ok, it's polite to say hello to the rest of the team when you start your day, especially if you have flexible hours and there's no set-in-stone start time.
  • 5pm rundown - just a little prompt each day in our main Slack channel for everyone to say the things that they've been working on, so we all know what projects are in the air and who's working on what.
  • Monday Zoom - running through what's happened last week and what's coming up this week really helps to make sure you're all on the same page.
  • Friday Social - when you work with people you don't just work with them, you socialise with them. We have a non-work video chat a week just to talk about our actual lives, outside of work. You can't ignore your colleagues' lives outside of work, it's unnatural to remain THAT socially distant.

If you'd like some more top tips on remote teams then feel free to get in touch

Posted on August 3rd 2020

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