I sat for about five minutes by myself in a lonely, isolated room. The creepiness factor was as shocking as the yellow fabric on the couch. I grabbed my tablet and tried to look busy. I fidgeted with my phone. Then, I bailed as quickly as possible and found a real desk.
Here's the thing. I'm a big fan of what Steelcase is doing to re-imagine the modern workplace. I love the Brody personal workpod, and I'm a major proponent of the stand-up desk movement. On a Friday afternoon at their office in Minneapolis, I wandered around and worked in a few rooms meant to give you some respite from the cacophony of constant chatter and digital overload.
The introvert room--technically, it's called a Quiet Place--has a couch and a few books with a task lamp and subdued decor (except for that bright yellow couch). Steelcase worked with one of my favorite authors to design the space. Susan Cain wrote the book on introversion. The materials that explain the purpose of the Quiet Place talk about an expectation for quiet, an understanding that, if you are in the space, you want to focus. The stats support the concept. It takes 23 to 25 minutes to get into a focus mode, but we're interrupted every 11 minutes.
In this case, the stats are not helpful. The idea is rather ridiculous in practice.
The worst thing an introvert can do in the office is go into an introvert room. It's like announcing to the world you have a problem. Because the space I tested has clear walls and a clear door, it means anyone can see you are in there trying to be an introvert. No one is going to bug you...but they might snicker. You might feel like you can work, but because you are an Introvert in the introvert room, you are mainly going to feel like you have been pigeonholed (literally).
I'm an introvert. I get it. We like quiet. But please don't build a room for us, OK?
The truth is, while we do tend to be constantly analyzing other people and, in some cases, hoping no one talks to us, we also have the ability to create focus on our own. We go to Starbucks. We wear headphones. We're not dumb. Sticking an introvert in an introvert room is a bit like grabbing an extrovert in the office and putting him or her up on a chair and saying, "OK, go ahead and start blabbering because that's what you do best." You might as well install video cameras in an extrovert's office and broadcast everything he or she does to the world because, you know, it is so compelling. The idea of creating a room for a personality type, especially one that definitely doesn't want you to create a room for it, is a really bad idea.
What's a good idea? Just leave the introverts alone and let them work. Let us figure out all on our own how to develop focus and let people know when we need quiet. We'll text you. We'll awkwardly announce it to the entire cubicle farm. But if we have to go to a Quiet Place to get real work done while everyone else points and laughs, we have created a work dynamic that doesn't really celebrate our differences as much as just builds a room for us.
I really want to hear from the workplace experts on this one. I also want to hear from the introverts. Would you work in a room with books and a couch? Does it appeal to you? If the room didn't have clear walls and a door, would it make more sense? My view is that it would be even worse. When I want to focus, I usually go somewhere like a coffee shop because I know I can blend in, not stand out. I can work better in a crowded place. How about you?