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How Design Can Solve the Growing Problem of Workplace Privacy

Posted on Aug 31, 2016, by Mike Brown

Lack of privacy in the workplace is one of the major trade-offs with open office working. A 2013 study found that nearly half of open office workers felt the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem.

With no walls to divide offices and establish personal space, it requires careful planning to incorporate privacy into your workplace. So today I’m looking at how you can design a space that combats the growing problem of a lack of privacy at work.

Featured image: Olson, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USAMinneapolis, Minnesota, USA

4 Types of Privacy to Address in the Workplace

There are four main types of privacy that are most important in the workplace. These are essential for you to consider when designing a workplace:

  • Acoustic – being able to work undisturbed by noise.
  • Visual – being able to work without being overlooked by others.
  • Spatial – being able to have a space to work in that you can consider your own.
  • Personal – being able to have space for private meetings or conversations.

How to Design for Improved Workplace Privacy

In open offices, privacy needs to be created during the design process. Here are 3 office design ideas to build privacy into an open office.

1)      Include Closed Spaces in Open Offices

An open office space is great for encouraging collaboration and strengthening working relationships, but it’s important to provide private, closed office spaces for employees to use when needed.

One idea would be to build a cluster of private, closed offices around the edge of your main, open-office space. These closed spaces give employees a space for meetings or private conversations and phone calls, where they won’t be overheard or interrupted. Including closed spaces within your open office design directly addresses the need for increased acoustic and personal privacy in the workplace.

2)      Zone Your Office

Zoning your office so that breakout or social spaces are set apart from employees’ normal ‘head-down’ workspace will help improve all four types of privacy in the workplace. Keeping your ‘head-down’ space separate from collaborative working spaces will enable employees to work without feeling overlooked, or like their personal space is being intruded upon.

It will also improve the acoustics in your office, by maintaining lower noise levels in your main workspace and having set spaces for collaboration and conversation.

Learn more about why conversation is destroying open office productivity.

3)      Move Away from Shared Desks

The average amount of workspace per employee has been steadily shrinking: from 225 square feet in 2010, to 176 in 2012, and is predicted to fall to 151 square feet per worker by the end of 2017. To combat this, companies are moving towards “hot desking” or introducing shared workstations.

Shared workspaces may seem like a great idea for improving collaboration and cross-team communication. However, even in light of shrinking office space and employee square-footage, you should endeavor to provide everyone with their own desk to work at.

This is essential for maintaining visual, spatial and personal privacy, and can even boost productivity: enabling employees to get more work done by clearly differentiating between ‘head-down’ workspace and space for collaboration and conversation.

However, if hot desking is essential to your company’s way of working, you should ensure that you always have enough desks for your employees to have their own head-down workspace, rather than being over-subscribed and leaving some employees to have to work in shared communal breakout areas instead.


Mike Brown

Written by Mike Brown