Balancing Virtual Privacy in the Open Office

By morgan

The balance of privacy and collaboration in the open office is a hot button subject that has been repeatedly discussed in our blog, among other places. The notion of privacy, though, has generally revolved around mitigating visual and auditory distractions. While this view of privacy is important and valid, there are several other components of modern office privacy that must be addressed as workplaces evolve. Employees are taking the path of least resistance to find what works best, and technology must be taken into account. When creating an open office, how much are you taking visual, auditory and virtual privacy into account?

Virtual Privacy, Often Ignored, Has a Noticeable Influence 

Since we rely increasingly more on mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops) in addition to desktops, the number of virtual distractions experienced in the workplace on a daily basis is considerable. The rise of new communication tools such as Hipchat and Slack present an increased expectation that virtual engagement is required. Virtual messages present little-to-no visual or auditory distraction for fellow co-workers, so they can appear benign to the sender or management. Too much virtual stimulation, however, can be crippling to productivity and even worker psyche. According to Business News Daily, the number of people that say social media and mobile devices distract them in the office is 19 percent and 12 percent, respectively. The need for more conscientious solutions in this area is a must.

Personal Space and Reducing Virtual Stimulants

As noted by The Harvard Business Review, virtual devices present two unique problems to the open office and its employees: the need to protect information and the need to control unwanted stimulants at a given time. From social media to the music we listen to in private, not everyone is keen on sharing their personal information with their co-workers. While this varies from company to company and among individuals, the need for some virtual personal space is important for a healthy work environment. For the worker that starts their day reading an article from The New York Times, it can be jarring to know a co-worker is snooping and immediately labeling them a slacker. While general accountability is needed, privacy and trust go a long way towards creating a space where employees can thrive.

Too much Virtual Stimulation is a Killer

As virtual stimulation goes, 82 percent of interrupted work is resumed in the same day, but it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task. Think that task reminder is harmless? Too many of them can derail an employee’s concentration, especially if they feel obligated to respond. Striking a balance between sending messages and allowing space for work is critical to a productive work environment. This applies to the physical distractions that can be limited by office partitions, but equally to the messages or emails received on a constant basis. Additionally, sound-proofing partitions in specific areas can be a great way to dampen general office music (say, from a Sonos speaker) if it becomes too much of a distraction.

Physical Privacy and Technology Awareness Makes a Better Space

Physical privacy as created by office partitions isn’t necessarily to limit obvious office distractions. Technology isn’t subservient to walls, but understanding the role of technology in a space can help your business go to the next level. Establishing a collaborative space for group meetings? Cell phone etiquette can play a role that enhances the physical privacy already established. Be sure to keep in mind the full scope of privacy to perfect a space.