How to Create Privacy in an Open Plan Office

July 25, 2019

Employees working in an open office.
Linsey Knerl

If you've read up on workplace culture, you know that the open office plan has been making its way to the forefront of corporate building design. The theory assumes that traditional cubicles no longer work, and that a more transparent and airy arrangement produces collaboration. While the benefits of this change are notable, the new arrangements also come with their own set of challenges.

Will an open office still respect privacy in the workplace and maintain boundaries between workers? Can tools such as a modesty panel ease the tension? We think so. Here's how forward-thinking businesses are making this new trend in design work.

Maintain Individual Spaces

Shared desks can work for some, but it's still nice to have a place to call your own. Employees feel valued when they know that they have some ownership over their workspace, whether that's a cubby or locker system, private drawers or a standing desk that's limited to one user.

Not only can having your own workstation provide some much-needed privacy, but it also ensures that the desk, chair and computer accessories are adjusted to the right height and distance for the individual user. This personalized approach to working keeps ergonomics in check and reduces the risk of back strain and other workplace injuries.

Block Out Distractions

Not everyone has the same abilities when it comes to focusing. What may be pleasant background noise for someone can be a deterrent to productivity for another. Consider providing a modesty panel for those who need distraction-free work spaces.

Offer Alternative Workspaces

If there are members of your teams who still struggle with productivity, it might be time to consider taking them away from the main work area. Opening up small "work pods" for those who need an uninterrupted environment is one option. You could also make conference rooms available for shared space that is a bit more intimate.

Pay special care to workers who will be doing client communications; it can be frustrating enough to make sales calls or Skype a customer. Giving them a place to chat in private may empower them to do their best work — away from prying eyes and ears.

Solicit Feedback From Your Teams

Don't assume that your solutions aren't working or that you need to do a widespread revamp of your open spaces. Depending on the unique needs of your workforce, only one or two small modifications may be needed. Be sure to regularly check in with your teams, using one-on-ones and reviews to ensure that any performance issues aren't related to the open space. As soon as you learn that privacy in the workplace is a problem, however, act quickly to resolve it on an individual basis.

While open offices are the wave of the future, only time will tell if they'll stick around through the next generation of workers. Their suitability may depend on the type of business you run, the personality of each worker and whether they are offered as a choice or a mandatory design element. For now, open offices seem here to stay; how you and your human resources department handle the changes can influence your workplace culture for the better.

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