While there are many benefits to the modern open office, its biggest challenge—and most notable drawback—is that it creates a lack of privacy in the workplace.
Without walls or partitions dividing the space, it can be hard to have sensitive conversations, avoid distractions, and relax enough to reach peak productivity. The enterprise software strategist William Belk conducted a survey in 2017 that found 58% of high-performing employees feel that they need more privacy to be productive. Taking into account that 70% of US employees work in open offices, this may be a problem.
Open spaces can induce anxiety and reduce focus, but they don’t have to. Since they don’t seem like they will disappear any time soon (a casual, open office with plenty of natural light is cost-efficient and aesthetically pleasing), here are a few tips for maximizing the privacy you can get out of an open office plan.
1) Adopt Do-Not-Disturb Signals
As described in the previously linked BBC article, some companies are adopting a signal system for when individuals are in heads-down, no-distractions mode. Whether it’s a simple flag system, or a full-on red light/green light illuminating your workspace, they visually signal whether you need to focus without interruptions or have more flexibility to engage with colleagues.
This doesn’t, on its own, solve the noise problem of open office spaces. You’ll still have to contend with ambient conversations and distractions, but at least you won’t be engaged while you’re trying to finish an important project or delve into a brain-intensive technical task.
2) Create Buffered Spaces Out in the Open
Other sources suggest a compromise between traditional offices and modern open floorplans, perhaps with clever furniture solutions that keep noisy collaborative spaces from distracting folks in more quiet areas.
Tall-backed circular couches dotted throughout the floor plan can give workers a place to converse and collaborate while minimizing noise spill-over and without resorting to isolated conference rooms or private offices.
3) Upgrade to Dynamic Glass Surfaces
Glass walls, doors, and partitions maximize natural light and make the whole office feel larger and more inviting. Unfortunately, a conference held in a glass box or a difficult talk behind a transparent glass wall invites everyone into the situation. Blinds or curtains can block sightlines (and the penetration of natural light), but this both defeats the purpose of glass and broadcasts when something private is about to occur.
Frosted, textured, or blurred glass can strike a balance by offering some transparency and permitting light to pass through while still shielding an area from more detailed inspection. Better yet, specially formulated Vision Control Film can make the glass transparent from desired viewing angles, and obscured from others.
A lofted conference room could be given a clear view of the landscape in the distance, but frosted privacy when viewed from the floor below. By controlling which vantage point can see through the glass, you can make your office space feel welcoming, but also safe from view where it matters most.
Don’t Stop There!
Employees have plenty of creative options to make an open office feel more exclusive and comfortable on their own, from headphones to foliage to homey decorations. These quick fixes can help, but the most substantial difference is made when businesses structure their open offices with our human need for privacy firmly in mind. Try out these solutions, and keep your eyes peeled for the next wave of innovations in open office design.