man sitting in cubicle with laptop with his feet up

A private workspace at Steelcase in Grand Rapids. (Courtesy of Steelcase)

Innovation | Technology

Private spaces make for a balanced workplace

There’s a broad spectrum of unique and innovative ways to provide privacy, from enclosed rooms and phone booths, to personal work pods or quiet corners in the company café

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There’s a compelling case for open office environments as a means to foster collaboration and innovation. Yet the fact remains that human nature demands some level of privacy at certain points during a working day.

Whether it’s to make a personal call, conduct an interview, write a report after an intense planning session, or simply find a moment of Zen in a quiet setting, employees want the option to get away from the constant bustle of a collaborative workspace. (See “These 4 privacy spaces are transforming the workplace” for more.)

The key for any open concept office design is balance, says Meg O’Neil, design manager for Steelcase in Grand Rapids. “We all came out of private offices for good reasons. When people used to work behind closed doors and in silos, innovation and collaboration were not happening.”

Yet a place to get away from the maddening crowd is equally important. “We can’t all be on, all day, every day,” O’Neil says. “Privacy is a universal need for everyone. We need it in order to be creative and think through problems.”

Then there is the detrimental effects of distraction, she adds. “Our studies show that on average a person is interrupted every 11 minutes, and it can take more than 20 minutes to get back into focus. Clearly that’s inefficient for everyone.”

When planning private spaces, organizations should consider both individual and team privacy, she advises. “Don’t forget that teams need to be able to work in quieter spaces that can be shared without scrutiny. You need to have those for planned or spontaneous interactions to happen.”

There’s a broad spectrum of unique and innovative ways to provide privacy, from enclosed rooms and phone booths, to personal work pods or quiet corners in the company café where employees can sit with their earbuds in and do their work.

Whatever the option, O’Neil says, “A private space gives you a high degree of control and permission to be alone in the workplace. One day you might want to sit alone in a café and appreciate some buzz around you; others you might want to close a door and be invisible for a while. That range is how you achieve balance.”