Haworth’s workplace library has a wealth of resources to help you design a great workspace that boosts productivity and enhances employee satisfaction. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a peek at some of these research documents. The “Privacy Matters” whitepaper is a good place to start. This paper by Drs. Bellingar and Kuprit takes on the topic of environmental psychology and workplace privacy.
A Changing Privacy Landscape
It turns out, the definition of privacy can vary depending on the person, the specific activity they are engaged in at a given point in their workday, and the expectations in their particular field of employment. Privacy used to primarily mean being alone. But this definition has shifted to be more about selectivity and choice in who has access to your time, your space, or your mental resources. The element of freedom is particularly important. As we discussed last week in the Swedish study, employees may have a greater sense of privacy even in a completely open workspace if they aren’t tied to a specific desk.
In the Haworth paper, the term privacy is used to talk about the amount of control employees have over limiting incoming stimuli (such as distractions) and protecting outgoing information (such as private conversations). A drop in productivity occurs when workers are exposed to too much incoming distraction – either visual or verbal. A drop in satisfaction and personal security occurs when workers are exposed to too much observation or eavesdropping.
Supporting Workplace Privacy with Furniture
Offices with doors, taller cubicle panels, and even floor to ceiling walls are architectural configurations used to support and indicate zones of increased privacy. The greater the degree of enclosure, the greater the sense of privacy. In fact, one study quoted in the Haworth paper revealed a linear increase in the perceived privacy rating of the space with an increased number of enclosed sides. So, a desk with three privacy panels or a cubicle with 3 high walls would be 50% more private than one with just 2 sides shielded.
Some of the most interesting information in the whitepaper has to do with the types of features different workers value for creating privacy. For some, having access to a conference room to enhance the privacy of group meetings was most important. For others, having a fully enclosed individual workspace for solo tasks was critical. Some types of workers found that facing away from distractions or being located far from activity hubs was the best way to cut down on interruptions. Others found that higher cubicle panels were more important than orientation or distance.
One result that held true across studies was the need to have easily reconfigurable tools to increase privacy as needed. In other words, it’s all about having the choice to limit access. Since our privacy panels install in just a few minutes with a simple Allen wrench, they definitely fall into the category of lightweight tools that are easy to reconfigure!