We’ve been talking a lot over the last few weeks about the impact of noise and interruptions on employee productivity. But a new study is revealing even more troubling data about how employees respond to a lack of visual privacy. 3M commissioned a study regarding visual privacy from the Ponemon Institute (does anyone else misread that as the Pokemon Institute?) The results were pretty shocking – and counter-intuitive. You might think that having less visual privacy would mean workers spend more time working. That’s always been an underlying idea behind having a totally open workspace where everyone can see whether their coworkers are goofing off or surfing the web. But it turns out that employees actually work 50% less when they aren’t assured of visual privacy.
At least, that’s what happened in the test environment set up by Ponemon. They studied the reactions of 274 employees from 5 organizations in different business sectors. These workers were given an opportunity to perform work while waiting to take a survey about their employer. A stranger was hovering nearby during this work period, making them feel nervous. Then, the employees were asked to go ahead and complete the survey which included sensitive questions about their employer. It’s probably not surprising that in this setup that intentionally invaded the privacy of the participants, they chose to shut down (figuratively). They answered far fewer sensitive questions and worked only half as long as those who were provided with privacy screens for their computers.
It appears that transparency and productivity both increase when employees are assured of greater visual privacy while performing work. And this isn’t just about mobile employees working in public on a laptop. 69% of participants in the study said their visual privacy had been violated at the office. A full 80% of professionals said “prying eyes” were a concern. Employees over the age of 35 are more likely to be aware of these issues and women are more attuned to the problem than men. Filters that fit on computer screens are an excellent idea for increasing visual privacy in the workplace. But you can also add another layer of security and privacy with desktop mounted privacy panels or cubicle panel extenders. We think a combination would help workers feel much better protected and at ease in their work environment – and it could help keep sensitive data safe as well.