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5 Clever Tips for Maintaining Privacy in Open-Plan Workspaces


Open-plan offices are an often debated, yet increasingly popular trend in workspace design. The idea of throwing away the cubicle space in favour of a shared space fostering communication, collaboration and openness has been gaining in popularity, and many big-name brands are utilising this model to encourage innovation and creativity within their brand.

Opposers to this trend complain of too much noise and distraction, as well as being able to openly seek advice and ask questions being beneficial to the asker, but repeatedly distracting to the person with knowledge who needs to get their work done. This leads to the question: how do we maintain privacy in an open-plan workspace?

Use the following tips to open up your working environment, whilst maintaining a sense of peace, quiet and privacy for those workers who need it.

1. Bundle workers into groups.

If co-workers on a project, or who otherwise work together frequently, are seated next to or opposite each other they are more likely to communicate with each other - even about small things. The cumulative effect of all these, often small bits, of extra communication is better relationships, trust and a project that benefits from even smaller details getting more attention. Also project members are less likely to need to move around or shout across the office - helping out those workers who find open plan disruptive to their concentration. With project members all close enough to hear each others conversations this also means everyone is kept up to date with little effort - reducing the total amount of time that needs to be spent on updating each other.

2. Use cleverly designed double-purpose furniture.

There are a number of excellent solutions available for your office, such as a whiteboard on wheels that doubles as a mobile room divider. Let staff have access to a number of useful office tools that can be conveniently rearranged to create a temporary cubicle space. With projects changing in size and coming and going - having the tools to quickly reconfigure your office to match keeps your businesses momentum.

3. Use desk mounted privacy screens that provide privacy both visually and acoustically.

While some thrive on the energy of a fully open-plan environment not everyone will. Take advantage of configurable furniture that can cater to different personalities. One example of such is desk mounted privacy screens. Give employees space without a neighbour watching over their shoulder, many of these screens even provide some level of privacy from sound.

4. Design workspaces to suit.

Just because no walls are up, doesn’t mean co-workers can’t have some level of privacy through personal space. Spread workspaces out, so everybody has room to unfold and work without a colleague breathing down their neck. Studies performed by Dr. Virginia Kupritz and Haworth suggest staggering desks, so that nobody is face to face with a co-worker when they look up, and avoid placing workstations back to back.

5. Keep the peace

One of the main complaints of open-plan workspaces is the lack of peace and quiet, and inability to focus on the task at hand because of it. It is important to take steps to reduce disruption due to noise, one of the easiest ways to improve this is to separate recreational areas from work areas - encourage co-workers to eat, talk and socialise in a separate dining space, outside of the general co-working area. If you have the space having an excess of meeting rooms can also provide a quiet space for someone to go to when they want more quiet while focusing on something.

Open-plan offices undoubtedly have advantages for increased communication. However unless some care is taken they can also be disruptive for those who prefer a quieter environment. If considering transforming your workspace into a more open and collaborative space it is important to keep your staff happiness at the front of your mind. Employ strategies and techniques to ensure all workers can access a sense of privacy, peace and quiet when they need.

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