Breakout Spaces Part 2: Balancing Public and Private Space with Quiet Rooms

Our vision of the modern workplace is marked by images of heightened interaction and collaboration. Collaboration between employees within and between organisations is a necessary function to encourage sharing of resources, knowledge, and skills. After all, change is almost impossible without the shared effort of skilled individuals working together to achieve industry-wide collaboration and cooperation. By combining resources and working together, collaboration creates the space for innovation and education as workplaces create a culture of mutual learning and community.

Technology Has Personalised the Four Walls

While organisations have pushed for greater collaboration, it is the latest swathe of technology platforms – social media, in particular – that has driven the business world to become more personalised in its approach. Employees, like customers, want to be treated like people, not a necessary input to achieve desired outcomes.

The Compromise Between Private and Public Space

Getting the balance right between private and public office space is tricky business. Since the 1980’s, companies have been wrestling to achieve the balance to support collaboration. From working in privacy without distraction in ceiling-high cubicles, to opening-out spaces to facilitate greater access to and interaction between people, organisations have been shifting their real estate to reflect the changing needs of their employees. At the same time, as the cost of commercial real estate rises, there is a secondary push to consolidate office space and maximise space efficiency. Collaborative work arrangements assist in helping businesses to keep commercial costs lower by utilising space more effectively. So where does the balance lie; and what is the optimal arrangement of private and public spaces to help employees work together in productive and effective harmony?

What Do We Mean by Privacy?

Organisations are working to rethink what it means to find privacy in open-plan environments. Typically, “privacy” has been conceptualised in terms of three common elements, including:

  • Acoustic: Can I hear you?
  • Visual: Can I see you?
  • Physical/Territorial: Do I have a space I can call my own?

Ideas of privacy such as these are being deconstructed as sound, sight and physical boundaries dissolve into a constantly-reachable physical and virtual work environment. To balance delicate ideas of personal space and privacy in collaborative settings, there are things that both the individual and the organisation can do. Strategic space planning can help; by assisting the workplace to isolate zones within their workspace to particular functions; from breakout areas and huddle rooms to quiet zones, to create a communal environment of various spaces that allow people to choose how and when they want to work. The quiet room; space or floor as it sometimes happens fits into this rationale, by physically separating some areas from open areas and containing noise to certain areas of the workplace.

Structural Change for Collaboration to Flourish

Individuals and organisations collaborate by working together to create value and achieve mutual goals. Replacing top-down organisational structures with structures that allow collaboration to flourish are just the beginning of better, business performance and innovation outcomes. But it comes at a cost; as personal privacy and quiet spaces to work and think without distraction or interruption run the risk of being lost in the move to flatline workspaces.

Quiet spaces offer zones for complete privacy to complete confidential work, make phone calls, or simply buckle down for complex or focused work. Quiet zones, just like similarly imagined “Private Zones” send a polite but to-the-point message not to bother the workers placed within. Ecosystems of spaces like these and others ensure that culture doesn’t have to be created at the expense of productivity. Employees can still have the high-energy open-plan office layout, with the option to retreat to a quiet space or zone when the buzz of workplace community stands to affect their focus and progress.

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