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Privacy in Collaborative Spaces

by Keith Fentress / April 9, 2015

This article follows my recent post Can Open Offices Offer Privacy? as the second in a series addressing privacy requirements in mobile and flexible offices.

The need for privacy in a collaborative space is clearly different from that required in a focus space. On one hand, we are looking at individual privacy, on the other we are looking at group privacy. Nevertheless, each has a valid privacy requirement.

Collaborative spaces may take two forms in a mobile or flexible office. The function of the first type of space, the huddle room, is to accommodate a group of co-workers for a casual or impromptu small meeting that might have been held in a private office in a traditional environment. Acoustic and visual privacy is needed to maintain confidentiality. These rooms are frequently glass enclosed and, from my observations, suffer the same deficiency as the get away booths criticized in the article Google Got It Wrong as “fishbowls.” Huddle rooms should offer both visual and acoustic privacy.

More and more, these rooms are used because the traditional office is falling by the wayside. Sensitive and confidential meetings that were once held in private offices are now held in smaller, collaborative spaces. Privacy is needed to allow individuals in such meetings to speak and act more freely. In addition, enhanced privacy reduces visual distractions like people walking by or the noise disruptions of people working nearby. This does not mean that a huddle room should be completely enclosed, nor should it be constructed of all glass walls – there is a happy medium that will still allow in light and the ability to see if the room is occupied without fully showing all of the space.

Collaborative Space Experience

I have worked in a huddle room with a glass wall that faces an office circulation corridor. I must admit that I find it distracting both inside and outside of the room. When inside, I see people walking along the circulation route and I am visually distracted. When I am walking by the room, I find myself waving at coworkers as they sit just behind a glass wall – I am sure I am distracting them. Changing the orientation of the room and/or making the glass opaque enhances the space from my perspective.

The second form of collaborative space is the office hub. This type of space is designed to be the antithesis of a private space. It is often described as a space intended to support “accidental creativity” through enhanced interaction between co-workers. In the hub, you want people to engage each other and interaction shouldCollaborative Space - Fentress Incorporated take precedence over privacy. Although a casual hub environment that is designed to accommodate both interaction and the opportunity for individual privacy would be the ideal. Having a corner of the area with a little more separation between furniture elements provides some privacy while not changing the dynamic of the space.

In the third and final article in this series, I will address the more sensitive privacy issue of the need to accommodate – or not accommodate employees – when they turn their attention to personal matters.

Tags: Flexible Workspace Open Office Design

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Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress is the founder and president of Fentress Incorporated. He has an extensive history of consulting to real property organizations. His skills include organizational development, program evaluation, and business process improvement. He enjoys outdoor pursuits like backpacking, canoeing, and snorkeling.