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Privacy in the Workplace: 3 Ways to Promote Worker Productivity in 2021

January 26th, 2021 | 8 min. read

Privacy in the Workplace: 3 Ways to Promote Worker Productivity in 2021

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Engagement in the workplace is at an all-time low. In fact, according to the Steelcase Global Report, disengaged employees make up one-third of the average workforce and only 13 percent of workers are highly engaged.

There's a lot of evidence to suggest that this lack of engagement has to do with the inability to find privacy in the workplace, threatening people's engagement, stress levels and overall job performance, as well as their emotional, cognitive and physical wellbeing.

To solve for the lack of privacy, every workplace should provide access to a variety of areas where people can easily collaborate, and private spaces where they can focus without being subjected to constant noise or distractions.

Here at Egyptian Workspace Partners, we believe solving for the lack of privacy in the workplace is as simple as creating distinctly different spaces that work for different people at different times.

In this article, we'll help you understand what the four different types of privacy are, and how you can incorporate them throughout your office to drive innovation, growth and employee engagement.

What are the 4 Types of Privacy in the workplace? 

As reported by Steelcase, there are four different types of privacy that people instinctively consider when looking for a private space. All four types tend to overlap with one another:

  • Acoustic privacy – Users are undisturbed by noise or can create noise of their own without disturbing others
  • Visual privacy – Users are unseen by others or free from visual distractions
  • Territorial privacy – Users can claim a space and control it as their own
  • Informational privacy – Users can keep analog and digital content (or a combination of both) and a conversation confidential

3 Ways to Promote Privacy  in the Workplace 

1. Craft tailored experiences with an ecosystem of spaces 

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To solve complex problems and generate new ideas, people have to be able to come together. However, too much interaction and not enough privacy can actually take a toll on employee creativity, engagement and wellbeing. 

That being said, open floor plans aren't the only problem, and private offices aren't the only solution. Rather, it's about creating balance and giving employees more choice and control over how they work. 

People need access to an ecosystem of interrelated zones and settings that support their physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing. They should be able to easily draw inspiration and energy from others and find a private space where they can focus and rejuvenate. 

When people have more control over their work experience, organizations are more likely to make optimal use of their office real estate, build a cohesive culture and help strengthen employee engagement. 

In fact, Steelcase's global report found that as the amount of choice and control over where to work increased, engagement also increased, resulting in 88 percent of workers being more highly engaged and highly satisfied. 

Design Considerations 

  • Offer a variety of different spaces with integrated technology for different modes of work, activities and behaviors  
  • Incorporate separate zones to support individual, team and organizational needs 
  • Use an architectural film like Casper Cloaking Technology on glass walls to obscure digital screens to outside view and ensure data privacy  
  • Install a room scheduling system like Steelcase Room Wizard or Crestron Room Scheduling so people can easily book space to focus 

2. Design for distraction in open workspaces

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Open-plan work environments offer a wide range of advantages, such as easy access to other employees and an energizing sense of camaraderie. But, as we previously mentioned, people also need private spaces where they can think creatively or simply catch their breath. 

With more than 70 percent of American employees working in open offices, finding a balance between transparency and privacy is absolutely crucial. So, how exactly do you create a balance between the two?

To put it simply, you should incorporate elements of a private office into your open floor plan. You can create destinations by defining space so teams can create together without distractions and individuals can focus without compromising their privacy. 

There are a plethora of ways to achieve this type of privacy. For example, integrated technology and whiteboard surfaces can give people the tools they need to work together without disconnecting them from their environment or disturbing others. 

Design Considerations 

  • Support both spontaneous and planned needs for privacy with phone booths and pods with integrated technology 
  • Provide nomadic height-adjustable workstations so workers can focus alone or work one-on-one with a coworker, while maintaining privacy in the open office  
  • Plan settings that are adjacent to workstations, along traffic paths and in remote corners of the floor plan  
  • Use a solution like Steelcase Flex to create destinations in the open plan and define space so teams can create together without distractions
  • Let workers manage visibility and availability with a broad range of boundary options like screens, partitions, furniture or plants 

3. Prevent annoying distractions with acoustic privacy

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In the workplace, irritating noise can come from all kinds of sources: air conditioning, outside traffic or even other people's voices. While it's nice to have face-to-face interaction with colleagues, all that extra noise can create a stressful and disturbing work environment. 

According to Gallop, 75 percent of people experience frequent noise while working and 42 percent would switch jobs to get audio privacy when they need it. However, solving for noise in an office isn't easy. 

Sound is very similar to water and can spread through even the smallest of gaps. Sound can be sealed, absorbed or masked within any work environment, but each method has pros and cons that should be carefully considered.  

For example, sound masking is a specifically tuned background noise that targets the same frequency as human speech and reduces its clarity, to cover up sound and let people have conversations without disrupting the whole office.    

There are also other acoustic privacy solutions to consider. Easy-to-use phone booths let workers make phone calls without disturbing others, while modular screens, furniture and even plants offer sound insulation benefits. 

Design Considerations

  • Opt for a direct-field sound masking system like Steelcase QtPro or stream music legally with a solution like the Crestron Sonos Sound Machine  
  • Limit noisy disruptions with modular walls that have PVC-free sound seals and double acoustic seals for improved speech privacy  
  • Prevent noisy disruptions by hanging acoustic absorbers from the ceiling in high-traffic areas 
  • Choose flooring like carpet, cork flooring or linoleum to absorb sound waves and improve overall acoustics  

Privacy in the Workplace: How Much Privacy Do You Need?  

So, how much privacy in the workplace is enough privacy? Honestly, it depends on the organization. There really is no one-size-fits-all solution because privacy is so complex and encompasses many different needs and behaviors. 

If companies want to compete today, they need to achieve the right balance between privacy and collaboration, so employees have more choice and control over their work environment. 

By providing places for moments of privacy for all workers, business leaders can support higher engagement, stronger collaboration, better productivity, improved wellbeing to drive innovation and growth, now and in the future.

Need help solving for privacy in your workplace? Schedule a virtual introduction or a showroom visit with a Workspace Partner today!

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In the meantime, check out 16 Critical Issues Your Workspace Can Solve for You, so you can be completely confident you're building a workspace that solves your business issues and works for your employees.