Today's workplaces are created primarily for the extroverts thanks to the development of activity-based design. The original concept was meant to push people out of their cubicles and into environments that adapted to a specific type of work. But over the years, this concept has morphed into open offices, big collaborative spaces and the pressure to be connected 24/7. This focus on extrovert office design takes its toll on the other half of the workforce, disintegrating the quiet and isolation needed for deep, creative breakthroughs. Introverts make up almost 50% of the workforce, and while extroverts are considered the movers and shakers, introverts are just as valuable for getting the job done, possessing key strengths such as creativity, focus, and grit that are often overlooked because they're less vocal or visible.
Activity-based office design gets us halfway there by acknowledging that an office should consider its layout for different activities. This design method emphasizes that companies should furnish their spaces to optimize production and quality of work during certain activities.
But now we need to take the concept of activity-based design one step further to recognize that primary activities are achieved by different work processes. For example: an extrovert's idea of collaboration may involve a large round table in the middle of the main floor, while an introvert's idea of collaboration is a huddle room with just enough space for two people and their laptops. Same activity, two very different approaches.
Open office design now presents a challenge to meet the needs of extroverted and introverted employees. But there are some key changes you can make to help your people feel happier and be more productive.
Acoustic meeting spaces bring comfort and security to express ideas.
Because of the values businesses place on extroverted personality traits, introverts have had to adopt behaviors that mimic those traits in order to survive in a corporate world. This can add to their high stress levels. Introverts are more sensitive to external stimuli, and working in large, collaborative groups can be exhausting. So why not provide a few smaller acoustic meeting spaces instead?
By giving employees a semi-private place to go in an open office plan, they can break from the hustle and bustle to meet or brainstorm. Try a couple of different setups in corners with acoustic flaps or deep seating with high backs to reduce audiovisual distractions. A few focus-dedicated cubes for the introverted at heart can still accommodate a two-person tête-a- tête could also be the way to go. Mixed space instead of all cubicles or all open office space can reach more personality types within the workforce than forcing one group to cater to another.
Don't even think about hot desking.
Hot desking is the extreme end of the open-office spectrum where people sit wherever they want in the workplace. They simply move their equipment and personal files around with them, or choose to utilize an assigned cubby or portable locked filing cabinet. But studies are beginning to surface that show hot desking can negatively impact our memory on the job.
Not only do we retain more information the longer we sit in one spot, we begin to build memories there as well as our "work identity." For both personality types, it's better for long-term productivity if they have an anchor desk or private office with options to move away from this permanent space during the day.
Individual "deep work" pods or rooms are a must-have.
Extroverts get their energy from being around a multitude of people, while introverts charge their batteries with quiet time and reducing external stimuli.
Extroverts thrive on social situations, so common areas in design for office space are ideal for them. They also appreciate smart collaboration with smart tech. For example, set up video conferencing in most spaces, use adjustable height desks with monitor arms that allow for screen sharing and movement, or embrace whiteboards and tables with built-in touchscreens for improved real-time collaboration.
Being mindful of which type of employee excels at which type of task can be the difference between a success and a failure in a project. Provide pods, nap rooms, hackathon or huddle spaces that can accommodate one or two people max, and make sure the walls are soundproofed. Your staff will thank you. Depending on how large your company is, you can also consider a quiet floor. Some workplaces have introduced silent areas as part of an activity-based working layout, and this is a trend we expect to see more of in the next year.
Family-style meal breaks can meet both groups' needs.
Instead of an employee break room with tiny cafe tables or four-tops, why not try one large community table? Whether round or rectangle, large or small, a community table gives introverts the connection time they need without feeling guilty if they disconnect after the break. It's also an ideal setup for extroverts to change up where they sit and meet new people across departments each week.
In 2017, the emphasis on physical health and wellbeing will be matched by the importance of the employee's emotional wellbeing. It's a good long-term investment to have conversations with your people and design the office to meet them where they are.