Open plan meccas are tough on introverts. Here’s how to give them space to do their best work.
There’s a colleague sitting opposite you in your open-plan office. She’s deep in thought, with a furrowed brow, head resting on her hands, her elbows on her desk. She seems pretty down, so you ask if she’s okay.
“Oh yes, I’m fine,” she says. “I’m just trying to block out the noise so I can focus.”
Introverts are not shy, or lonely, or antisocial creatures, despite the stereotypical view that others may have of them. They simply feel better when spending stretches of quiet time alone. Too much noise, too many distractions – even if it’s just a tap on the shoulder – can drain their energy pretty quickly.
Which basically means they’re going to be stressed out, burned out and totally miserable in whizzy collaborative spaces with ping pong balls flying over their heads.
We know you respect your people and you want to do your best for them. So here’s a breakdown of our favourite introvert-friendly features so you can deliver an office fit out that your quiet ones will adore.
Same Activity, Two Approaches
What bugs introverts the most about the trend for open-plan working is that it gives them limited options for quiet work. Lots of London fit out companies get it right with activity-based areas that are laid out for different activities; some collaborative, some solitary. But even then, there’s an assumption that sticking a cosy chair in a low-traffic area will give introverts all the calm space they need to make a private phone call or relax. It’s good…. but it’s not quite perfect.
For example: introverts enjoy collaborative work just as much as extroverts do. But whereas an extrovert’s idea of collaboration may involve multitudes of people around a large table in the middle of the open-plan floor space, an introvert will prefer an intimate huddle room with just enough space for two people and their laptops, cosy as two peas in a pod. Same activity…two very different design solutions.
Screen the Visuals and Block Out Sounds
Glass screens are gorgeous, but introverts can still see everything outside. So why not try a couple of different office fit out setups that heighten privacy? Opaque glass is an obvious solution, but there’s a whole range of high-backed “acoustic” furniture that provides optical screening and blocks out background noise. From wing-back couches to office dens, phone pods to acoustic desk screens, manufacturers are introducing new privacy concepts every year to meet growing demand. And you get tons of style for your pound.
Sophia Dembling, the writer behind Psychology Today’s “The Introvert’s Corner,” once said a ringing phone is like someone running up from behind and yelling, ‘Boo!'” That’s why some workplaces have even introduced silent, phone-free areas which might feature a massage chair and aromatherapy – a place of refuge. Pretty much what every introvert wants then….bravo!
Wheels Are Your Best Friend
We love modular furniture – that’s stuff on wheels – because it serves so many purposes. Placing a series of high-backed sofas throughout the office is simple and cost-effective. When someone needs to be with their own thoughts, they can roll one around to face a wall or window. This creates a visual barrier from the rest of the office, and it’s comfy as heck too.
Put a couple of sofas together facing one another and you’ve created an intimate “room within a room” completely free from audiovisual distraction. For introverts, these arrangements score on every front:
● Acoustic privacy – they cut out noise.
● Visual privacy – no one can see you.
● Territorial privacy – it’s a space to call your own.
● Information privacy – you can discuss things in confidence.
Plus, it’s a social signal, letting others that the person doesn’t wish to be interrupted. Shhhhh.
Love Your Nooks and Crannies
Introverts will tell you that all private areas are good, but some spaces are just really good for thinking. These areas tend to have dimmer lighting and are tucked away in little nooks and crannies that are easy to gravitate towards when someone needs a break. Because they’re so small and only semi-permanent, you can easily personalise these spaces with pics, plants, books – whatever you need to feel the benefits.
Some companies have gone so far as to hide top-secret privacy nooks throughout the building. Who wouldn’t want to to slink around through unmarked doors to a dim-lit corner with a powerpoint, comfy sofa and endless, delicious solitude?
What’s the Downside?
Here’s the best bit – there isn’t one. All of these options retain the good things about open-plan offices, and there are simply no drawbacks to a workspace that gives people choice. No introvert left behind.
(Just don’t even think about hot desking. Seriously. Your introverts will thank you.)
Need more awesome visuals? Check out our Instagram for examples of introvert-friendly breakout spaces. So quiet, they’re dangerous.