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Managing Matters of Privacy in the Flexible Office

by Keith Fentress / April 16, 2015

Today, in our third and final piece on workplace privacy, we’re going to tackle the issue of personal matters at the office.

The recent article, As Office Space Shrinks, relays a conversation of a partner in an architectural firm - one that coincidentally designs open offices - in which he confided to an assistant who sits directly behind him in an open office layout that he was postponing an upcoming lunch because he was having a colonoscopy. “Now, about six people around me also know,” concluded the architect.

As I suggested in a past blog post, Can Open Offices Offer Privacy?, architectural and design solutions must be complemented by procedural solutions that guide employees on issues of privacy enhancing courtesies. This would certainly help to avoid disturbance from employees talking too loudly, but would it solve problems of confidentiality due to employees hearing too well? In my opinion, this situation requires the use of “white noise” sound masking technology or increased availability of personal refuge rooms, such as “get away” booths.

Having a place to go for personal matters in the workplace is important. The balance of architectural solutions for privacy and policies that promote courtesy go hand in hand.

Transition and the Flexible Office

At a recent conference, an architect presented several solutions regarding courtesies in an open and flexible office environment. During the transition process from traditional to mobile space, his client organization adopted a peer concierge system where fellow employees helped to identify issues with the transition, such as the logistics associated with packing up and moving.

After the move, it became clear that the peer concierge system needed to stay in place to work out courtesy issues in the new office space. Some of those issues included encouraging employees to get up from their respective workstations and to use private spaces for personal matters. The concierges also gathered complaints and worked toFlexible Office - Fentress Inc. move people to office areas that matched their way of working. Further, the concierges recommended the use of colored “chip clips” for employees to fasten to their workstations in a way that was visible to other employees. A red chip clip indicated privacy, yellow indicated approach only if you needed to, and green indicated that an employee was available for collaboration. Such policies and practices can lend themselves to courtesies in an open and flexible office environment.

I am firmly convinced that, in the process of transitioning from the traditional office to the mobile office, flexible office, or beyond, our design progress must be complemented by procedural solutions that guide the employees on issues of privacy enhancing courtesies and other appropriate behavioral norms. Both are critical to the success of our future work environments.

Tags: Flexible Workspace Open Office Design Space Transition Mobile Workforce Solutions

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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.