A research paper called “Noise and Perceived Privacy – Flexible Office Space Matters” published at acoustics.org by Christina Danielsson reveals some very helpful information about how employees respond to different types of office layouts. A study of about 470 employees in various Swedish companies gathered data about the satisfaction level for seven different office types including:
- All private offices (fully enclosed)
- Open plan offices (with assigned workstations and few or no dividers)
- Flex offices that had no assigned workstations but lots of options for where employees could work within the layout – including “backup spaces” featuring varying levels of enclosure
Not surprisingly, private offices were most prized for acoustic and visual privacy. However, those in flex offices reported just as much visual privacy as those in private offices. They also reported better acoustic privacy than employees in open plan offices. Open plan spaces that housed a lot of employees were at the bottom of the list for both types of privacy. Interestingly, satisfaction with privacy was better in flex offices even if they did not specifically offer truly private spaces. Apparently, having the freedom to move around instead of being pinned down to just one place to work makes a big difference. In other words, the perception of autonomy is linked to the perception of privacy.
The paper concludes with this statement: “It is highly important to recognize the relation between perception of privacy and noise, since it is known that privacy has a mediating effect on negative stimuli such as noise. With knowledge of the architectural and functional features importance for these issues costly mistakes for organizations such as a decreased environmental satisfaction and job satisfaction among employees can be avoided for organizations in the design process of offices.”
Whatever type of space you create, be sure there is some built in privacy for all employees. This can be provided in terms of:
- The layout itself (architecture and floor plan)
- How each space is furnished (perhaps a mix of individual workstations, collaborative and lounge furnishings)
- The inclusion of enclosed spaces for individuals or groups (private or semi-private areas)
- A work culture that permits greater freedom of movement within the office environment
How are you ensuring the perception of privacy at your office? Share your ideas in the comments.