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  • Cicero Construction

Office Cubicles Make a Comeback in COVID-19 Business World

PLAINFIELD, IL, JANUARY 22, 2021 -- Because of the pandemic and social distancing measures, the good old cubicle is making a comeback in office design.

"As businesses bring their employees back to offices, newly installed cubicles are helping ensure that when they return, the workplace is both productive and safe," said Sam Cicero, president of Cicero Construction Group, a general contractor specializing in commercial property renovation. "Adding cubicles and partitions is one of the easiest ways to ensure the safety of workers, along with the reducing of office densities, widening walkways and minimizing shared office spaces."

Over the past three decades, cubicles fell out of favor in the modern workplace and were replaced with open office layouts designed for collaboration, not isolation. Rising to prominence in the early 2000s and spurred on by young tech firms, the open office signaled an end to the ‘cubicle farm’ era. Yet the very things that made open offices popular are now jeopardizing employees’ health. Open offices may become a thing of the past as managers work to mitigate risk as much as possible and put employee safety first.

Open-floor office plans are more susceptible to viral transmission, especially for employees sitting side-by-side at a communal desk, or in large spaces used for congregation. The move from cubicles to open planning drastically decreased the average space per employee in an office. The typical cubicle is usually 6 feet by 6 feet or 8 feet by 12 feet. A standard office desk for an open plan is about half that, 5 feet wide and 2.5 feet deep. Another side effect of open offices is more people sharing the same air with fewer physical barriers.

The Return of Cubicles

Lightweight and movable cubicles are not only affordable and scalable, they also provide enough separation to make employees feel safe in these uncertain times.In order to provide a sense of community and the needed collaboration among team members, cubicles can be arranged to encompass a team-dedicated 'courtyard' sized and configured to provide the right distancing to allow for discussions while maintaining healthy separation. To help foster the feeling of an open office workplace, transparent plexiglass dividers are replacing ones made of fabric, metal and plastic. This way, people can feel like a part of the team without having to be in direct contact with everyone.

Cubicles and partitions are making a return as the virus speeds the move away from open plan office spaces. If you plan on installing cubicle, Cicero recommends that:

  • Cubicle barriers be at least 5.5 feet high from the floor

  • Desks in adjacent cubicles should not face each other

  • The best materials for cubicles to help prevent Covid-19 are laminate, acrylic, glass and writable surfaces. These hard, non porous surfaces are easy to clean and disinfect

  • Reduce the number of people in a room to allow empty desks and at least 6 feet between desks as possible

  • Keep partition tops at minimum 18 to 24 inches below the ceiling to allow for appropriate air system circulation.

As reopening phases progress, companies will still need to provide a space where employees come together safely to innovate beyond virtual means. Along with cubicles, Cicero also predicts that touchless doors, elevator controls, toilet partition doors and light switches will become more commonplace in re-opened offices. It can also mean more use of materials, like copper, that are less hospitable to germs, and reconfiguring ventilation systems.

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