Everything Old is New Again: The Private Office. Thanks COVID for accelerating the value of the private office when return-to-office is now accelerating, even slowly.
Collectively, we’ve been whipsawed between corporations developing a more club-like work environment, more emphasis on conference rooms/collaboration space while simultaneously reducing their office footprint. More data compiled by Kastle Systems in May 2022 by Globe Street suggests we are at a “normalized” occupancy of 43% in their 10-city survey.
So if we’re looking to convince employees to return to the office in some capacity, offering more private office space, even on a shared basis, could turn the tide a bit.
This is true especially for Gen Z, as they value the office experience more than any current generation in the workplace. Per a WorkDesign article of Steelcase Global Research, conducted Fall 2021, 4,986 employees in 11 countries, it found the most important element for them now:
- 75%: Privacy
This may be a reflection of their WFH experience with multiple roommates sharing wi-fi and space 24/7.
Next on their list:
- 68%: Collaboration stations that support virtual work collaboration
- 66%: Stand-alone workstations (Enclaves/Pods)
- 66%: Single person enclaves that support remote meetings
- 63%: Workstations that can be reserved
From our discussions with multiple architects, ABW – activity-based work is (and perhaps always has been) the biggest determinant of optimal space configuration. This translates directly from “Form follows function“ – Louis H. Sullivan, early 20th century architect.
We know that the private office component addresses the number one expectation for privacy of most employees, not just Gen Z.
From the above, we are synthesizing the findings into additional benefits for everyone, including increased creativity, ability to perform focus work, more effective 1:1 collaboration and improved health.
-confidential conversations with clients, colleagues, family, vendors, – you name it.
We’ve adapted in this time to give each other more “room”, mostly emotionally and mentally, while we navigate what’s next. Going back into an office environment from a WFH (work from home) experience leaves us with a pent up demand to socialize, the need to dive quickly in to seclusion, or perhaps both during the workday. A private office affords us the complete spectrum of activities to be more productive.
-ability to freely daydream as you develop initiatives.
We know that our brains are constantly making connections and problem-solving. Kernels of ideas pop up more often than we can capture them. Who of us hasn’t had the experience of being in “flow” – drilling down into a knotty issue and completely absorbed – when the phone pings you, email/Slack is triggered, or a colleague wants to run something by you. The private office can be a sanctuary of sorts to daydream and document these ideas before they disappear to interruption or distraction. (remember to close the door or have an indicator of “do not disturb” at the ready)
-when your focus must be dialed up to complete tasks, meet deadlines, etc.
Similar to the above but with greater stressors at play. Being on deadline while being in the office can turn our stress up to 11. If you have just recently (past 90 days) eased back into the workplace more fully beyond 1 day/week or less. You may be adjusting and readjusting to commuting and getting dressed for civilization (no more pajamas or even athleisure attire), and SHOWERING even on a limited in-office schedule. Add in-person exchanges and distractions, (forced socializing) while heading for the finish line, can make us all a little brittle, and not our best selves. As suggested above, informing your colleagues that you’re going “off-grid” even in the office for perhaps a 2-hour stretch helps everyone: Respecting your boundaries; Enabling your productivity; Respecting everyone in the office during that time. A CEO client uses the term “going into the cave” to inform the team of this activity and blocks it out on the shared calendar.
1:1 collaboration (or a group of 3)
-when sparks fly (positively) during uninterrupted collaborations.
This collaboration doesn’t always need to take place in a 10-person meeting room. If you are in the initial ideation phase, then a more limited scope of “spit-balling” 1-on-1 or with just a couple of colleagues in a private office may accelerate your concept sufficiently to take it to a larger brainstorming arena. Pre-test, in a sense, before a larger reveal.
Improved health (avoiding flu, the latest version of COVID, mental health etc.)
-as we’ve appreciated, the private workspace may also reduce virus transmission.
The longer we’ve been in this cycle, the more wary we’ve become of close interaction with others. Our other senses may have become heightened if we’ve had a WFH experience that was low-noise, limited-distraction and moderate-interruption. As mentioned above, we’re returning to a noisy and stressful commute, active and engaged colleagues and the work energy is something that requires adaptation – again. Just as our eyes need time to adjust from complete darkness to vibrant sunshine, so we also need time from our home-based schedule and experience to coming into a revitalized or modified office experience. Having access to the private office eases this transition and may also improve mental well-being via reduced stress and quiet, uninterrupted time when needed.
Yes, to Private Offices again – but with Choice
When employees have choice in when, where and now how they’re working, we have observed, per multiple surveys, that productivity has not suffered and in fact, has increased. The challenge now is to entice people back to an office, even on a hybrid schedule. The most popular option is the private office – even if shared via a hybrid scheduling mechanism. As we look to the provisioning of private office space in the mix, we expect productivity to continue to be robust outcome along with increased creativity, ability to perform focus work, more effective 1:1 collaboration and improved health, as long as employees have choice in collaboration with their employer.