At consumerprivacy.us, there’s a good blog post that tracks privacy concerns from the early days of office computer work through today. It points out that the 3M study we posted about a few months ago isn’t telling us something new. Employers have always been concerned about leakage of sensitive information and office workers have always been less productive when they feel too closely observed. According to the consumer privacy blog article, “As early as 1987, a US government report found that monitoring the quantity or speed of work contributes to stress and stress-related illness.” It’s just a fact that if part of your brain is worrying about being watched, you have less attention to devote to the task at hand.
Is Protecting the Computer Screen Enough?
Not really. The blogger recommends doing more than adding a privacy screen to the computer monitor. There need to be areas even within the workplace that boost the sense of personal privacy while muting sounds. Here’s his proposed solution: “You can create the same environment by creating small, closed offices with doors that have a work counter and sound-absorbing, acoustical wall surfaces that can be used for heads down work or sensitive phone calls.” On the surface, that sounds like a good idea.
Sadly, this would probably lead to some groups hogging these little private offices all the time. Introverts might crave this refuge from the noise of the open office. Or, corporate climbers might think staking claim to even a tiny, temporary office is a way to increase their prestige. Simply having a door that will close has replaced the corner office as the marker of rank in many workplaces. Scheduling time slots for this space would probably start some really vicious interdepartmental wars.
What Other Alternatives Are Available?
There are many “pods” and “touchdown” stations being promoted by office furniture manufacturers these days that avoid this issue. They offer a space enclosed on three sides, but no door. That way, there’s a certain amount of privacy, but not the ability to completely shut oneself away from the rest of the workforce from nine to five. A less expensive and more egalitarian option would be to make desk mounted privacy panels available to all employees who want them. That way, they can choose their own level of privacy instead of vying for a turn in the pod.