If your business’s workplace uses an open office floorplan, you might be wondering how to create privacy in it. Open offices are undoubtedly popular. Consisting of a single large and open space with few or no enclosures, they are designed to increase collaboration among workers. Due to the lack of privacy in open offices, however, this doesn’t always happen.
Why Lack of Privacy Is a Problem in Open Offices
Researchers at Harvard University actually found that open offices discourage collaboration. After following some 150 office workers over a three-week period, researchers discovered that workers in open offices had 70% fewer face-to-face communications with their peers than those in traditional offices with enclosed spaces.
Open offices place workers out in the open where they are given little or no privacy. Therefore, many workers keep to themselves without taking the initiative to communicate with their peers, which often causes their productivity to drop. So, how do you create privacy in an open office exactly?
Deploy Desk Dividers
Desk dividers can prove useful for creating privacy in an open office. When deployed, they’ll create a physical barrier between two or more workstations. If multiple workers use a single large desk, for instance, you can use desk dividers to separate them. Desk dividers are mounted vertically in the middle of a desk, thus separating the workers who use them.
In addition to creating privacy, desk dividers can protect workers from infectious illness. Cold and flu viruses can spread quickly in open offices. If an infected worker sneezes, he or she may spread the virus to other workers. Desk dividers reduce the risk of transmission by creating a physical barrier between workers. The desk divider will catch germs that would otherwise spread to nearby workers, thus creating a safer working environment.
Space Out Workstations
Don’t clutter all of your office’s workstations together. If they are positioned flush each other, workers won’t have much privacy. You can still use multiple desks or other workstations – one for each worker – but consider spacing them farther apart.
Most commercial offices don’t use all of their available space. According to Inc, up to 40% of the space in a typical commercial office goes unused. With so much unused space, you shouldn’t have trouble spacing your workstations farther apart. Placing them just a few extra feet apart from each other will provide workers with a newfound sense of privacy to encourage collaboration while simultaneously increasing their productivity levels.
Install Privacy Filters on Monitors
You can install privacy filters on computer monitors to give workers a little more privacy in an open office. Also known as a privacy screen, a privacy filter is a thin and flat piece of light-filtering material that’s designed to limiting the angles at which a monitor can be viewed. Most privacy filters are made of either polycarbonate or acrylic material. Regardless, they allow workers to plug away at their computers in privacy.
With a privacy filter, a monitor can only be viewed from the front. A worker who’s sitting directly in front of the monitor can see the monitor, but those sitting or standing to the side won’t be able to see it. By installing a privacy filter on all the computer monitors in your open office, workers will have more privacy.
Privacy filters do more than just create privacy; most of them eliminate static electricity as well. Computer monitors can sustain damage when exposed to static electricity. Depending on the voltage, an electrostatic discharge (ESD) event may cause a monitor to randomly turn off, or it may completely break the monitor to the point where it needs replacing. Privacy filters neutralize static electricity while giving workers more privacy when using their computer.
Use Partitioning Walls
One of the most common methods for creating privacy in an open office involves the use of partitioning walls. Partitioning walls are tall structures that are designed to separate areas in a large and open space, such as an open office. They are either freestanding or floor mounted. Once installed, the partitioning walls will separate the respective areas surrounding them.
Unlike most walls, they are neither permanent nor are they are load bearing. Partitioning walls are temporary vertical structures that create a visual sense of separation between two or more areas. You can easily install them between workstations where they provide workers with additional privacy. Just remember to choose partitioning walls in an appropriate size for your open office.
Use Mobile Whiteboards
Another way to create privacy in an open office is to use mobile whiteboards. Like all whiteboards, they consist of a glossy flat surface that’s used for writing and drawing. Workers can make nonpermanent markings on them using a dry-erase marker. To erase their markings, all they need to do is wipe the whiteboard with a cloth or paper towel.
What that said, mobile whiteboards differ from standard whiteboards in the sense that they aren’t restricted to a single area. Most whiteboards are installed on a wall. Mobile whiteboards, on the other hand, feature wheels on the bottom. Therefore, they can be moved to different areas.
Mobile whiteboards are similar to partitioning walls in the sense that they separate two or more areas. You can place a mobile whiteboard between two workstations to separate them. At the same time, workers can use the mobile whiteboard to create notes or other markings related to their professional activities.
Here are some things to consider when choosing mobile whiteboards for your open office:
- Size (height, width, and depth)
- Number of wheels
- Whether the wheels can lock in place
- Frame material
- Frame color
- Marker storage hooks
Designate Quiet Spaces
There’s no denying the fact that open offices are noisy. All offices have at least some noise. Since open offices lack physical barriers between workstations, however, they are typically noisier than standard offices with enclosed spaces. To overcome this problem, consider designating one or more quiet spaces.
A quiet space can be any enclosed room that offers a quiet environment for workers. If there’s a breakroom in your open office, you can designate it as a quiet space. Alternatively, you can designate an unused conference room as a quiet space.
With all the noise in an open office, workers can get distracted. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney also found that noise was the leading cause of decreased worker morale in open offices. It harms the morale of workers more than the temperature, amount of space, lighting, air quality, and workplace cleanliness. With a quiet space, workers won’t have to worry about noise. They can perform their work-related activities – or simply relax during a break – without being exposed to loud noise.
Add a Phone Booth
It may sound like an unusual accessory for an office, but a phone booth can provide workers with additional privacy. You can’t use just any phone booth in your open office. Rather, you’ll need to use a special type of phone booth that’s designed specifically for commercial offices.
Office phone booths are made of soundproof material, so they function as a quiet space. Some of them are small and only support a single person. Other office phone booths are larger and support two to four people. No matter the size, a phone booth will create a private and quiet space in your open office.
Install Privacy Film on Glass Windows and Walls
If your open office has glass windows or walls, consider installing privacy film on them. Not to be confused with the privacy filters used on computer monitors, privacy film is a self-adhesive material that’s placed over a glass surface. It lives up to its namesake by restricting visibility through the glass on which it’s installed.
Glass windows and walls offer little or no privacy. Unfortunately, many commercial offices are now designed with glass windows and walls. They may have several rooms, all of which feature glass walls. Workers who use these rooms will be seen from other parts of the office through the glass walls. Privacy film reduces visibility through glass walls, as well as windows so that workers have more privacy.
Upgrade to Larger Office Chairs
Switching to larger office chairs can provide workers a little more privacy. All workers need a chair to comfortably work at a computer. You can’t expect a worker to stand on his or her feet for the entire day. Rather than small chairs, though, choose large chairs. Large chairs won’t exactly provide workers with an enclosed space, but they will create the perception of a more private space.
A large chair, such as an executive office chair, will offer a sense of privacy for the worker who uses it. He or she won’t be completely exposed when sitting in it. Large chairs have backrests that cover the worker’s body. As a result, upgrading to larger chairs can help you create privacy in an open office.
Many workers will also agree that large chairs are more comfortable than their smaller counterparts. They provide greater support for workers’ back. With their ergonomic design, large chairs can protect workers from back pain and other forms of office-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In turn, workers feel more comfortable and energized when sitting in them.
Leverage Acoustic Panels
With noise being such a problem in open offices, you may want to use acoustic panels. Acoustic panels are boards made of sound-absorbing materials. They are designed to absorb sound waves and, therefore, minimize noise levels.
Noise is the result of sound waves echoing throughout an otherwise open space. You can install partitioning walls and other temporary structures, but unless they absorb sound waves, they won’t have a noticeable impact on noise levels. Nearly all types of metal, for example, reflect sound waves. When sound waves strike a metal surface, they’ll bounce off it to create an echo. Even drywall offers poor sound-absorption qualities. Acoustic panels don’t suffer from this problem. They work in the opposite way by absorbing a significant amount of sound waves.
You can install acoustic panels on the walls in your open office. You don’t have to replace your office’s existing walls with them. Rather, acoustic panels can be installed over its existing walls. After installing acoustic panels on the walls, your open office should be quieter.
Add Plants to the Décor
Including plants in your open office’s décor can create privacy. They serve as visual barriers to conceal workers behind them. If you want to create more privacy in your open office, just add some plants to the décor. As long as the plants are relatively tall, they’ll instill a sense of privacy in workers.
Plants provide a plethora of benefits beyond that of privacy. Numerous studies have shown that plants promote happiness and productivity in offices. Regular exposure to plants stimulates the release of feel-good hormones in the body. When these hormones are released, workers will be happier, and they’ll be more productive.
Plants also have air-filtering properties. They filter toxins, germs, and other impurities from the air. The cleaner air associated with plants can reduce allergies and other respiratory problems in workers. To take advantage of these benefits, use real plants in your office’s décor rather than artificial plants. Artificial plants may create privacy, but they won’t filter the air.
Gain Feedback From Workers
While following these tips can help you create privacy in an open office, you should consider seeking feedback from workers for new ideas. Workers may have other solutions that you haven’t thought of yet. To gain insight into their ideas, you’ll need to ask them for feedback.
You can gain feedback from workers simply by asking them for their opinions about your open office’s privacy. If a worker is struggling to cope with the lack of privacy, he or she may provide you with some new solutions. Another way to gain feedback from workers is to send them an email. If your office has dozens of workers, asking them for feedback in person may be tedious. An easier approach is to send them all an email.
President at Office Chairs Unlimited – I have been in the furniture industry for over 20 years, and I’m an expert (just ask me) on all things furniture. I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.