Design a Workspace that Gives Extroverts Privacy, Too
|Christine Congdon the director of global research communications Steelcase|
Some of the most unlikely people have confessed to being introverts lately. One recent acquaintance–while chatting amiably during a pre-event networking session– leaned over to quietly tell me that she is actually an introvert. She felt she had to learn more extroverted behaviors to succeed in her career. And she’s not the only one.
It seems like everyone is talking about where they are on the introversion spectrum these days, and for good reason. Since Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking delivered her TED talk in 2012, the public has become more aware of this important aspect of our personalities, and how it impacts our behaviors, emotions and decisions. We now know that introverts aren’t shy, they simply respond to stimulation with greater sensitivity. They are thoughtful people who don’t dominate a conversation or command attention, but their preference for solitude leads to deep insights and creativity. Being an introvert is no longer a problem to be solved or covered up – it’s become kind of cool. And businesses are looking for ways to offer introverts the solitude they crave at work.
Extroverts, meanwhile, seem to be getting a little less attention. Because they love socializing and comfortably spend large chunks of their day interacting with others, working in open spaces seems ideal. In our workplaces at Steelcase it’s pretty easy to spot an extrovert. You can almost always find them in open, community spaces like our Work Café, which is a place that blends the vibe of a coffee shop with a range of work settings where people can collaborate, work individually, or chat with coworkers. It’s the hub of our campus and a great place to see or be seen — an extrovert’s paradise.
But even extroverts get worn out by the amount of stimulation everyone faces. We’re bombarded with information: according to The Happiness Advantage author Shawn Achor, people receive over 11 million bits of information every second, but the conscious brain can only effectively manage about 40 bits. Our technology allows work to follow us everywhere, even into places like the bedroom and bathroom that used to be non-work sanctuaries. We’re collaborating with teammates for longer stretches of time – sometimes the whole workday – requiring longer hours to handle our individual tasks. Even in countries like France and Germany that have long valued the separation of work and life, our jobs have seeped into nights and weekends. The pace of work has intensified everywhere. Which means that everyone – including extroverts – needs access to private places to get stuff done, or simply take a breather.
As humans we need privacy as much as we need human interaction. But too often our workplaces are designed with a strong bias toward collaboration and social connections, without adequate and varied spaces for concentration and rejuvenation. Distractions are troubling for all of us, but extroverts can find them irresistible. We found a number of design strategies to support extroverts’ need for privacy. Here are some ideas:
- Extroverts are drawn to social interactions. Create “quiet zones” for individual work that reduce the temptation to interact with others. Orient the furniture to avoid conversations and eye contact.
- Create private areas that have frosted glass or other treatments that allow light in, but manage distractions. Situate these in low-traffic areas that limit the temptation for extroverts to look up and engage with passers-by.
- Provide enclosed private areas with strong acoustic properties to keep noise out. Extroverts are enticed by conversations, so make sure there are sound seals that minimize or eliminate voices, allowing extroverts to stay focused.
- Schedule “quiet time” for everyone to focus on their individual work. The social convention of this practice will help extroverts allocate time that is “interaction-free.”
- Help extroverts shield themselves from visual distractions with opaque walls or movable screens.
- Extroverts need respite from the intensity of work. Create places with soothing textures, sounds and vistas, where they can seek solitude and rejuvenate.
For these ideas to work, organizations need to embrace the notion that seeking privacy is not anti-social, but part of an essential balance in our workday. Extroverts, as well as introverts, need permission to seek alone time when they need it to do their best work.
Source: Harvard Business Review