Throughout the world, a crisis around office privacy has become a prevalent trend. Too much interaction and not enough privacy has taken a heavy toll on employees’ creativity, productivity, engagement and wellbeing. “The need for privacy sometimes—at work as well as in public—is as basic to human nature as is the need to be with others,” explains Donna Flynn, director of Steelcase’s WorkSpace Futures research group. “The harder people work collaboratively, the more important it is to also have time alone—to be free from distractions, apply expertise and develop a solid point of view about the challenges at hand. People also need privacy to decompress and recharge.”

Privacy Options 1

The Brody lounge shields people from visual distraction, creating a cocoon-like experience without walls.

Privacy Options 2

Private enclaves, like the V.I.A. wall system, can be built into the open plan to provide acoustical privacy.

Privacy Options 3

Millennials prefer lounge postures for quiet work; lounge chairs can be tucked away in nooks to optimize real estate.


Gallup’s recent report found only 13 percent of workers worldwide are engaged and inspired at work, the remainder are unmotivated and unlikely to invest effort in organizational goals or outcomes. However, additional data shows that, at least in the United States, those who spend up to 20 percent of their time working remotely are the most engaged employees. This finding suggests that these workers are able to balance collaboration and interaction with colleagues at the office and are working remotely to achieve the privacy they need for some of their individual work.

Another condition that impacts workplace satisfaction and thus engagement is when employees have no choice but to work in environments that are saturated with stimuli. According to Susan Cain, author of the bestseller, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”, many people perform best without others around them constantly. Despite this, she contends, teamwork is often elevated above all else. The result can be a psychological phenomenon that has been coined as “groupthink”—people’s natural inclination to succumb to peer pressure and go along with others rather than to risk being isolated by contributing a differing point of view.


Office workers are interrupted every 11 min on average by digital and human distractions. These breaches in attention carry a destructive ripple effect because, once a distraction occurs, it can take as much as 23 minutes for the mind to return to the task at hand, according to recent research done at the University of California.

According to David Rock, a performance management consultant and author of “Your Brain at Work,” “As we got better at sharing information and building software and techniques and tools for collaborating, we’re leveraging the fact that information travels literally at the speed of light… And so with all this efficiency of information flow and of communication, we’re hitting up against the final bottleneck, which is our ability to pay attention and make decisions. In the average morning download of emails, many people have to process in a half hour what your brain probably needs a day or two to process at the right kind of pace… We’re definitely stretching our capacities in some challenging ways,” says Rock.

Privacy 2UP

Some organizations quite literally carve out “Quiet Zones” within the floor plan, while others create smaller nooks with shielded settings to help people find places to focus.


Being constantly interrupted can be frustrating. The challenge today is to balance individual needs in the workplace with the need for collaboration.

Empowering individuals with choices and some measure of control over their environment becomes critical and helps to mitigate office privacy issues.


Focusing | Every worker needs some time that’s uninterrupted to concentrate and attend to specific tasks such as thinking, studying, contemplating, strategizing, processing, and other “head down” work best performed in one’s own mental “zone”. Increasingly designers are building in “Quiet Spaces” or zones within the open plan environment in an effort to provide opportunity for focus and respite.

Collaborating | Fundamentally, collaboration is about working with one or more people to achieve a goal, such as collectively creating content, brainstorming, etc. Ideally, all perspectives are equally respected, brought together to leverage the group’s shared mind. Informal collaborative spaces such as media:scape lounges provide solutions for employees to gather and share ideas.

Learning | Learning is about building knowledge. Whether in a classroom or a conversation with peers, learning happens best by doing and building on what’s already known. When thinking is made visible to others, learning is accelerated and becomes an integrated part of organizational culture. Providing furniture throughout a space that is flexible, interactive and multi-functional, such as the Node chair, can help create impromptu environments that foster learning.

Socializing | For knowledge to be fully internalized and useful, it needs to be socialized. When people socialize and work with others in formal and informal ways, both learning and trust are built. Combining trust with an organization’s intellectual capital creates the necessary ingredients for innovation. Collaborative furniture in shared spaces, such as the Bix Lounge, gives people informal opportunities to share knowledge and socialize.

Rejuvenating | Today’s workers need precious time for their brains to decompress. Whether that means socializing in the work café, meditating for 15 minutes in a private enclave, or taking a refreshing walk around the block, it is important to find ways to refresh the mind.



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The Privacy Crisis
Balancing “We” and “Me” 
Google Got it Wrong.