The Internet is full of gloomy articles about workers who hate their open cubicles and yearn for private offices, where they believe their lives would be full of productivity and peace.
Today’s open environments are designed to foster collaboration by eliminating barriers and making informal interactions easier and more frequent. However, an increase in informal interactions creates distractions, making it more difficult to get the work done.
Susan Cain, author of the book ” Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” says this can be difficult for introverts, since they “are more easily overwhelmed, reacting to what’s going on around them.”
Since it’s unlikely that everyone can claim a private office, here are 10 ways to decrease distractions for the introverts in us all, based on Cain’s design principles for the workplace:
Give employees permission to be alone:
- Create drop-in workstations where no phones or interruptions are allowed.
- Turn a small conference room into private drop-in space, and add homey touches like a small sofa, a pull-up table, and a lamp.
- Give staff permission to select the correct setting for a particular task. Make sure management adapts the attitude that it’s OK to work away from your desk and lead by example — management should use these spaces too!
Allow staff to have control over their environment:
- Introduce music speakers in quiet rooms, and allow users to control the playlist.
- Give workers a desk lamp for personal control over lighting. Haworth’s LIM desk lamp is slim and energy efficient.
- Create boundaries around technological distractions, and set policies and expectations around how frequent you expect staff to respond to email/phone messages. Email, phone calls, text messages, twitter can be just as disruptive as that annoying co-worker, and you can experience this loss of productivity even if you have a private office.
Create sensory balance:
- Add touches from home by using different textures and patterns to the workplace like pillows, plants, rugs, vases, books and sculptures. Society6 has an awesome collection of fun pillows at reasonable prices. I especially love the faux books of Bookworm or the geometric shapes in tryypyzoyd. Introduce calming colors with wall paint or add interesting accent lighting – go retro with the Aston by Rejuvenation. Or, add a touch of wood with West Elm’s Bentwood pendant.
- Try some acoustical solutions to block out unwanted noise.
Provide psychologically safe areas:
- Apply “frosted-look” film to glass windows on private spaces to give workers more privacy. However, keep the bottom 12-18 inches clear to increase a sense of security, and to allow occupants to see if someone is approaching.
- Think about the orientation of desks and furniture: Orient desks and seating towards doors and openings so occupants can see visitors approaching.
Don’t forget about the extroverts, either: Make sure you have places in the workplace that have increased activity levels like coffee bars, gathering areas, and social spaces. Make sure you buffer these spaces from the quiet ones.
The story was originally published in Dallas Business Journal.
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