September 08, 2022

How to Safely Bring Employees Back to the Open Office with MojoDome

How to Safely Bring Employees Back to the Open Office with MojoDome

It’s time to resurrect a healthy, productive open workspace in mid-pandemic America. Unfortunately, the open workspace design poses more challenges than ever, in our mid-pandemic environment.


Long before anyone ever heard the term “COVID-19,” the open-space trend backfired. By the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic's economic fallout, a full 70 percent of all office spaces were open design. While open office spaces were designed to promote collaboration, they did just the opposite. A 2019 Harvard University study found that face-to-face interactions dropped by 70 percent in an open work environment, and employee use of digital communications between office mates increased by 50 percent.

The open workspace trend also caused the size of individual workspaces to shrink, from 325 sq. ft. per person to 75-150 sq. ft. Nonetheless, many companies, across a myriad of industries, are bringing employees back to work in their same open workspaces, with one more issue—social distancing—to add to the list of challenges. Read on for a look at the “Catch-22” of the open workspace--and what can be done about it. 

1. We need concentration for productivity

Productivity demands on workers have never been greater, yet science has proven that a loud colleague can reduce drop productivity by two-thirds. “If you can hear someone talking while you’re reading or writing, your productivity dips by up to 66%,” says Julian Treasure in this now-famous Ted Talk on the impact of noise on our brains and souls.

Visual privacy is an issue as well, and it goes both ways: (1) a study conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that employees are 50 percent less productive when they feel others are watching their screens; and (2) busy colleagues moving about create sight-induced distractions. One study showed that workers are interrupted every three minutes, and it takes up to 23 minutes to get back to what they were doing.

2. We need collaboration for success

Before COVID, many companies focused on bringing all employees into the office and frowned on letting employees work from home.

Since the coronavirus lockdowns began in March 2020, many companies—where possible--sent their employees to work from home, for health and safety reasons. While the remote work trend will likely increase for the foreseeable future, it's not ideal. There have been unforeseen costs to companies, from innovation and communication to company-culture breakdown. 

While it’s now clear that many professionals CAN work from home, innovation can be compromised. During times of strong economic growth, inspiration and problem-solving happen face to face. Industries like computing, engineering, and design thrive when inspired project teams work together, physically.

Another cost can be company culture. An organization's culture is often defined in times of disruption, through shared in-person experiences, challenges, and triumphs over the odds. And that includes COVID-19. Companies of all sizes are experiencing monumental shifts in their businesses, and “big ships turn slow.” It’s hard to pivot quickly on large-scale operations when the team is physically scattered.

3. Some businesses can't "work from home"

For many Americans who DON’T work in high-tech fields, work-from-home was never an option. We’ve all watched nervously as both “essential” and non-essential workers continue to work in shared workspaces throughout this ordeal.

BLS data shows that just 12% of workers with only a high school diploma can work from home, and that includes industries like retail, manufacturing, customer service, and inbound/outbound sales. Unfortunately, these same workers are often the lowest income-earners, and they can’t support their families if they don’t return to—or remain in—a shared workspace.

Solutions toOldOpen Workspace Problems

So what is the answer to working safely and productively in the open, shared workspace? For employee health and safety, many employers are—with success—adding plexiglass barriers between workstations and/or doubling down on their facility cleaning practices. But that does little to solve for privacy or collaboration.

Office products with names like “pods” and “phone booths” have tried, with mixed success, to address the privacy issue in the open workspace. But what about collaboration? And exactly how many phone booths can you fit into a 75-150 sq. ft. per-person office space?

Like many complex solutions, the answer will be found in great design by innovative engineers who understand the need for businesses to survive within their existing, open workspaces. Privacy booths that deliver social distancing, privacy, collaboration and acoustical protection are just around the corner, along with built-in design services. The goal? To get the pre-pandemic open workspace ready for the future.

Are you ready to bring your workers back to the open workspace, safely and productively?

Check outMojoDome

MojoDome - Privacy Solution Open Workspace