What would happen if we designed places that recognize the differences in people, not just by their job type, but by their personality?
– Jim Keane, Steelcase CEO
Today’s typical workplace is characterized by open floor plans and clusters of desks, setting up employees for maximum group interaction. It is thought that this design strategy encourages collaboration and produces chance interactions among colleagues, which in turn inspires creativity and innovation. However, in this effort to align creativity with collaboration, have we neglected half of the workplace population?
In her bestselling book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” author Susan Cain suggests that while introverts represent almost half our workforce, companies often fail to provide work environments suited towards their personalities, which leads one to question: exactly what personalities do we have in mind during our design process, and how does this translate into our strategies for workplace design?
The open plan workplace trend tends to be biased towards those with extroverted personalities. Chance interactions, group integration and working in teams is highly valued and is believed to maximize the potential for innovation. However, in the constantly connected world we live in, some characteristics of the open plan workplace can pose challenges to those with more introverted personalities. Continuous social interaction can even have a negative impact on the performance of those who do not identify with an extroverted personality. Studies have shown that excessive stimulation impedes learning, can reduce productivity and even impair memory.
Example of a work place that addresses the collaborative and solitary work environment needs.
The more collaborative the workplace becomes, the more time an individual needs alone. For introverted personalities, personal space is vital to creativity, and the benefits of time alone include increased creativity and productivity, both of which are key to innovation in the workplace. Time alone allows you to focus (it is nearly impossible for humans to multi-task), and can even produce more positive emotions, more creativity and improved memory, resulting in getting things done more efficiently and at a higher level of quality.
Workplace design strategies must strive to give the workforce choice and control over where and how they will work
How do these concepts translate into workplace design? The ideal solution is not a diversion from the open plan workplace, but rather an integration of workplace design strategies to simultaneously accommodate a wider variety of personalities. Huddle rooms and quiet havens give those with more introverted personalities permission to be alone and provide a break from an otherwise highly stimulating workplace. Flexible meeting rooms facilitate collaboration without interrupting those around them. Workplace design strategies must strive to give the workforce choice and control over where and how they will work – allowing all personality types to maximize their potential. It’s all about balance – creating a highly functional, intuitive and sensitive workplace where innovation will thrive.