Thanks in large part to the hugely popular work of author Susan Cain, the needs of introverts have gotten a lot of attention lately. Cain has been a passionate advocate of sometimes-overlooked quieter types. She argues that, to accommodate them, employers need to change not only some management practices but also many modern work spaces.

Open-plan offices are terrible for introverts, she asserts. "In the prototypical modern workplace, desks are spread around open floors or clustered in pods. The theory is that this encourages collaboration and creates the chance interactions among colleagues from which breakthroughs emerge," BusinessWeek's Drake Bennett has written, summarizing her stance. "As a result, Cain says, the quiet and calm necessary for deep thinking, and the solitude that nourishes the introverted mind, are obliterated."

The solution, according to advocates for the introverted, is either to escape the office regularly if you feel overwhelmed or build offices with private spaces, dividers, and rooms for small gatherings that can accommodate those who find the chatter and buzz of a typical office just too much. If your Myers-Briggs type starts with an "I," that probably sounds pretty appealing, but according to a fascinating post on the HBR Blog Network by Christine Congdon, director of research communications at furniture company Steelcase, these sorts of ideas won't benefit just quiet types.

Extroverts are overstimulated, too

Extraverts might love the hustle and bustle of their companies' open-plan offices, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're always good for them, Congdon points out. "Even extroverts get worn out by the amount of stimulation everyone faces," she writes. "We're bombarded with information: According to The Happiness Advantage author Shawn Achor, people receive more than 11 million bits of information every second, but the conscious brain can only effectively manage about 40 bits."

"The pace of work has intensified everywhere. Which means that everyone--including extroverts--needs access to private places to get stuff done, or simply take a breather," she concludes. That means that while your most personable employees probably won't be the ones asking you for pods and chill-out rooms, chances are good they'll also benefit from them.

Extroverts often need shielding from their own social impulses with office design innovations like "quiet zones" that "reduce the temptation to interact with others," suggests Congdon. She also recommends rejuvenation areas decorated in soothing tones, opaque screens, or walls to reduce the number of chats with passers-by, and a scheduled "quiet time" when everyone is encouraged to tackle head-down work. "The social convention of this practice will help extroverts allocate time that is 'interaction-free,'" Congdon says.

Extroverts out there, is it true that you find open-plan offices distracting or draining?

Published on: Oct 31, 2014