Bosses struggling to find private work spaces for staff

05 December 2014 -


Research identifies five key ways that employees are carving out alone time in the office, as they seek more control over how they work

Jermaine Haughton

Managers are failing to provide office workers with enough choice, control and – most importantly – space to work in their own ways, according to a study from workplace solutions provider Steelcase. The global survey, carried out by the firm’s Workspace Futures Team in partnership with pollsters IPSOS Mori, found that 41% of staffers are often left desperately seeking privacy within open-plan settings, where they can complete work without being distracted.

As such, bosses are now faced with the challenge of finding ways to develop office plans that incorporate both public and private spaces.

While the report explains that respondents generally enjoy working in open-plan offices – rather than closed-off, individual ones – they are nonetheless keen to have peaceful retreats within them. However, different people have different definitions of what workplace privacy actually means.

Indeed, the research showed that there are five main types of privacy that workers are looking for, all of which have different reasons attached:


You want to be “invisible” for a while in order to avoid normal social distractions and restraints. You may choose to go to a café to get focused for work by blocking the social distractions of the workplace.


You choose what others see in you by being selective about the personal information and behaviours that you reveal. Examples of selective sharing can be opting for a telephone call instead of a videoconference, or carefully choosing which personal items to display in your workstation.


You share information confidentially within a trusting relationship. You require opportunities to build up a confidential rapport that will enable you to discuss a personal situation with a colleague, or to confront issues within a performance review by a manager.


You protect yourself from others’ sightlines to avoid being observed or distracted – or to develop a personal viewpoint without the influence of others. Many office workers like to create personal spaces using earphones to block out audio distractions, or sitting against a wall.


You physically separate yourself from colleagues in order to concentrate, recharge, express emotions, rejuvenate or engage in personal activities. If you fall into this category, you appreciate quiet spaces within the office, or sit in the farthest, empty corner of a large room.

Steelcase vice president of UK and Ireland sales, Bostjan Ljubic said: “People not only expect privacy in their private lives – they want it at the office as well. For people to collaborate with their colleagues more effectively they need less ‘we’ time and more ‘me’ time than they are getting today. Because people experience privacy in these different ways, the key is to design a workplace that supports them all.”

He added: “Workplaces dominated by enclosed offices won’t solve the engagement problem. The best way to support today’s workers is to provide the ability to move between individual time and collaborative time, fully leveraging the power of the workplace to strengthen satisfaction and engagement.”

Ljubic argues that expanding the design of office space to be flexible for private and public use will give employees the power to choose their most suitable environment to work in, given the task in hand. “Many offices have limited options such as individual workstations, private offices, conference rooms and a cafe,” he said. “Some people find it inspiring and creative to work in a crowded, noisy environment, whereas others prefer quieter spaces, and quite often they want a mix of both. The workplace needs to offer a variety of public and private spaces – for We and I work.”

For more on these issues, read this special guest blog for CMI on what line managers can do to achieve employee engagement.

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