How To Maintain Privacy In An Open Plan Office


In office design, open plan layouts are becoming more popular as they provide flexible working areas, facilitate collaboration between teams and break down hierarchical barriers. However, with open plan spaces, you may be at risk of making your office too exposed.

In Harvard Business Review’s article (2019), the idea of privacy not compromising safety appears to be a common dilemma with all designers. With employee safety being paramount to business, issues surrounding harassment and vulnerability in the workplace need to be addressed, particularly as smaller spaces where only one exit is available such as kitchens or storage rooms can make employees feel vulnerable. But equally, open plan areas can become too noisy, distracting and overwhelming to some colleagues who prefer traditional working environments. This then leads us to one solution: balance. Implementing balance in spatial design can be achieved through a ‘layering approach’, defined as “a thoughtful progression from private, to semiprivate, to open” [1]. The layering approach can be achieved through various ways:

Traditional offices where managers typically have their own room can feel hierarchical or confining. Instead, replace solid wall partitions with frosted or plain glass partitions. Glass offices not only provide visual transparency into an office, but effectively maintain acoustic privacy and advocate a collaborative, modern working environment.

At Fry Heath & Spence, the client wanted to completely renovate and refurbish their new office. The glass partitions break away from a restricted office layout and into a fluid and light working space, whilst still providing private offices for individual workers or meetings without imposing barriers between the rest of the office.

Another way of creating a safe atmosphere without barriers is through the strategic placement of furniture. Since an open plan office eliminates most private offices and meeting spaces to increase communication between teams, the need for privacy may still be necessary for personal meetings or a phone call. A way of introducing this is through furniture such as working booths or high back chairs because they visually separate an individual without them being restricted to another room. Plus, in the future, the layout is easier to alter if the office needs to accommodate a higher capacity of staff.

In our recent project with a Professional Services Firm, we supplied acoustic working pods to allow quiet working through their surrounding screen and desk facilities.

Additionally, more companies are introducing recreational or breakout spaces within their corporate working environment. Casual spaces, whilst they promote a healthy work ethic, should not distract from productivity. Instead, they should be a comforting space for individuals who require respite from the working environment. These types of spaces can also have procedures in place that only allow employees in those areas in certain times of the day.

At Techspace Luke Street, we created a recreational space, filled with a ping-pong table and soft, comfortable seating to encompass the community brand and feel and fit within an open plan design.

Therefore, when designing an office space one of the most important points to consider is the balance of openness and privacy. With the new generation requiring fluidity in their space and the ability to collaborate, considering the privacy and safety of the office is paramount to the wellbeing of employees.

Do you need help redesigning your new or current office space? Contact us today and our friendly team would love to help!

Source: ‘Designing Office Spaces Where Privacy Doesn’t Compromise Safety’, 2019, Harvard Business Review


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