Bringing Privacy Back to the Open Office


There’s been a sea change in office layouts over the past several decades. For the most part, Mad Men-era workplaces with private offices are out, and open office spaces are in. There are several reasons why open office spaces have become so popular: the idea is that they help motivate, inspire, energize, and allow for greater collaboration between employees.

Open offices have plenty of high-ranking champions. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, for example, recently commissioned a new 435,000 square-foot office building for about 2,800 engineers in Menlo Park, California. The office will have lots of perks, like rooftop parks, cafes, and barbecue areas, but the building’s main ‘campus’ will essentially be just one large, open room. Zuckerberg claims that the idea is to get employees “close enough to collaborate together.”

However, not everyone has quite such a rosy outlook on open offices. The majority of employees, for a start, aren’t in favor of them. According to several studies recently outlined in The Atlantic, open offices leave employees less satisfied with their work environment, performance, and even co-worker relationships. From a hygiene perspective, open offices are less than ideal. One study reported by the Wall Street Journal found that employees who work in an open office are more likely to take short-term sick leave than those who have their own office.

Another major issue is the combination of different personality types in open offices; while some extroverts might thrive with a certain amount of bustle and background noise, introverts might be more easily distracted and stressed out by the open office design.

Rethinking the Open Office: Pockets of Privacy

Open Office Design

Susan Cain, author of the popular Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is no fan of the open office layout. However, she also recognizes that businesses aren’t going to give up this layout anytime soon (not only do many people still like the idea of the ‘creative’ open environment, open offices also allow businesses to save money by fitting more people in a workspace). As a result, she’s setting out to help businesses redesign their open offices so that they offer more privacy.

Cain’s idea is to set up two different types of privacy areas in offices: one type is meant to be conducive to focused work, and the other type is supposed to give stressed out workers a place to relax. Focused workspaces will essentially look like private offices; they’ll be enclosed but will allow workers to see out, and will have a desk along with other decorations to give the room a cozy feel. The relaxation areas will look more like a lounge, with spaces for workers to roll out a yoga mat or even just lie down on a couch to rest their eyes.

Because Cain is only just now introducing this innovative open office design, it’s hard to say what kind of effect it will have on workers. However, it certainly seems like it offers the best of both worlds: there will still be an open, collaborative space, but workers will also be able to feel like they can have some privacy when they need it.

If you’re wondering how you can remodel your own office to improve productivity for all personality types, contact Alliance Interiors. We have experience designing, planning, and implementing new interior spaces for many different types of workplaces, open and otherwise.

About the Author Lynne Lemieux

Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.

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