How To Balance Collaboration and Privacy

Collaboration and Privacy: Have there ever been two words so diametrically opposed? In terms of modern office design, the answer is a resounding no. Collaboration and privacy are often considered to be polar opposites — and for good reason.

For the past 50 years, these two design choices have dominated office design trends, pushing floor plans to each extreme of this pendulum. The result? Unbalanced spaces that either isolate or distract.

Distracting: “The Big Room of Desks”

One of the most common offenses in unbalanced office design is the dreaded “Big Room of Desks.” These rooms typically feature rows and rows of desks with nothing between them.

“Big Rooms of Desks” are generally looked upon as being more collaborative because most employees work within view and earshot of other employees. Though this may be an aspect that can develop a collaborative environment, just being physically near other people isn't necessarily a recipe for collaboration. What it can induce is plenty of distraction.

Isolating: “The Maze of Rooms”

On the opposite side of the spectrum are the once-popular “Maze of Rooms.” Generally private offices, the “Maze of Rooms” are basically comprised of long hallways with many rooms on both sides.

Private offices seem like a great idea, and indeed are in many cases, but they can stymie collaborative efforts by not offering enough space to work together on projects. In addition, they can also make it more difficult to know what is going on in team environments, decreasing transparency on all levels. Though privacy is an important aspect to any work environment, too much privacy might actually get in the way of teamwork and new ideas, leaving people feeling siloed.

Consider adding lounge elements for casual, multi-purpose use. For example, turnstone’s Campfire Big Lounge and Campfire Paper Table support your needs and provides a welcoming place for collaborative or individual work.

Balancing Collaboration With Privacy

Obviously, neither of those options are incorrect in and of themselves, but problems arise when either is used haphazardly or applied without balance. Also, convincing research about introverts and extroverts reminds us that different people need different things, eliminating the efficiency of a single-design office.

Steelcase 360 Magazine’s article, Finding Balance: Improving Collaboration by Rethinking Privacy, highlighted global energy company TAQA. TAQA designed a new headquarters that attempted to balance both extremes into a finely-tuned and efficient workplace. The ideas they implemented show how companies can combine the best of both worlds.

Here are some things you can try:
  • Install phone rooms to help staff maintain private conversations.
  • Add numerous meeting rooms to keep in-person meetings confidential, while not disrupting other office staff members.
  • Increase the number of shared environments to help staff collaborate near their workstations. 
  • Increase transparency by reducing the number of private offices. 
  • Install smart printing stations to keep confidential documents private.
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