October 5, 2016

Privacy: Thinking Beyond Four Walls

Shared by Workplace Specialist, Jessica Merchant

Most of my career has been client facing. Meeting with clients weekly and hosting them at work events or other social engagements. I am a mobile worker in a sales role, I must be an extrovert, right? Well, I am not. While I have similar qualities of an ambivert personality, specifically when it comes to my professional world, I am actually an introvert.

In a professional world where “open plan”, “collaboration” and “flexible worker” are increasingly being talked about, people cannot forget the need for privacy. As many of us are becoming more mobile, in and out of meetings all day, being disrupted by a variety of things, we strive for private time to get work done. Many believe a private office will solve this problem, when in reality a person might require something more. Thinking about the tasks at hand, what type of privacy is actually desired? Do you need visual privacy away from people or distractions? Do you need acoustical privacy and a quiet space? Are you working on something confidential that requires informational privacy, or do you just need a place that is your own; territorial privacy? Privacy is really about control and the experience you desire.

Steelcase has researched privacy in the workplace and identified different ways to experience individual privacy. Understanding these has allowed me to plan my day accordingly, depending on the particular tasks I have to tackle.

  1. Strategic Anonymity: being unknown / “invisible” – working at a coffee shop where you are among other people, but no one knows who you are.
  2. Selective Exposure: Choosing what others see – Deciding to speak over the phone vs. a web conference.
  3. Entrusted Confidence: Confidential sharing – privacy with others. Performance review with a manager or sharing a personal situation with a colleague.
  4. Intentional Shielding: Self-protection – wearing headphones while working
  5. Purposeful Solitude: Separating yourself – finding a private enclave to work for a few hours.

Understanding these insights can help drive the design for a company’s workplace, creating an optimal environment for a variety of workers; extroverts, ambiverts and introverts. To achieve this, workers need to have choice and control.  Designing for differentiated settings will allow each worker to choose their best place to work based on the task or their personality. “Context is a key consideration; the same type of privacy setting can provide a different experience depending on its adjacency, location and level of exposure to what surrounds it.” – Steelcase, 360 Privacy Crisis.

I expect a lot out of my workplace to achieve success. In my role, I need to be accessible to my team to complete the projects at hand. I also require a level of privacy to complete heads down work. Personally, having a workplace that allows for different privacy experiences has attributed to my success and productivity.