The workplace has changed greatly over the last twenty years. For many this has meant moving from places of privacy like private offices, or semi-private spaces like cubicles into transparent spaces like open-plan offices. While it might be easy to just look at the change and see it as necessary, we want to dive a little deeper to see how this change is affecting work and the workplace.
Shut Up And Leave Me Alone
Two top workplace architects have recently written about the transformation and concluded that all is not right and that something is missing. At HOK, the research team surveyed many office workers who resoundingly expressed that they were lacking privacy and that the office was too loud. For Gensler, the conclusion to their own survey [pdf] was that the workplace design needs to design for focus, which they see as being a key workplace driver of productivity.
But is the open-plan office landscape that bad? For some, the answer is yes. Susan Cain, the bestselling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the answer is absolutely yes. She explains in an article for the New York Times that privacy fuels productivity, solitude brings learning, and that brainstorming is one of the worst ways of bringing out creative thought. She also believes that many open plan workplaces do not take into account the needs of introverted people that recharge in moments away from people.
Redesigning the Workplace
If the current office workplace is as bad as it might seem based on the ideas above, then we need to seriously look at the need for privacy in the workplace. That said, I think it would be a poor decision to react and give all office workers private offices. I recently wrote an article titled 5 Things Your Office Probably Doesn't Support, But Should, and several of the items listed are directly related to today's topic.
If you're looking to adjust your workplace toward offering more privacy, the article suggests you add the following items in varying degrees depending on your particular needs"
1. Phone Booths
2. Quiet Work Rooms
3. Space to Relax Alone
On the technology news sharing site Hacker News, a discussion recently broke out regarding an article from Quartz titled, Open-plan offices make employees less productive, less happy, and more likely to get sick.
One of the main thrusts of the discussion surrounded the idea of flexibility in workplace design. One of the top comments really resonated with me:
"Anyone who has worked in enough office environments for a while will recognize that the "best" environment is a flexible one. Sometimes it's working in the open, sometimes a quiet office with the door closed, sometimes at home or a coffee shop."
While not everyone many have experience this type of work flexibility, I see it as being essential to the future of workplace design. In another recent article, I examined the idea of the Perfectly Customizable Office, which is specifically suited to the exact needs employees might have at any particular time.
We need to make sure that we are working the needs of many individuals into office designs, and until we can have the perfectly customizable office, it means that some needs will not be met perfectly for everyone.
As an introvert myself, this reality gives me one last thing to leave with you, "Shut up and leave me alone".