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I was always the girl with her head buried in a book. Far preferring to be off in the quiet of my mind silently transported on vast adventures who knows where from as young as the age of four. When I wasn’t reading I was constantly creating, making furnishings for my Barbies out of any old boxes or scraps of fabric, concocting entire worlds of imagination. I found large groups of noisy school kids running around the playground overwhelming.
Today, we describe children like this as introverts – people who thrive and derive their energy from lower stimulation environments. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” states “Introversion is really about having a preference for lower stimulation environments. So it’s just a preference for quiet, for less noise, for less action. Whereas extroverts really crave more stimulation in order to feel at their best.” It has taken years to realize that I am a learned extrovert. I love my friends and being out in a crowd but too long without significant alone time and I crater.
Flash forward to the late nineties… Imagine a bland, sterile, unoriginal cubicle in a well known Wall Street insurance company just off the front entry and next to the coffee/copier room. There I sit in my new position as marketing manager for an international division. More often than once an hour, I am interrupted by well meaning people asking if I could fix the copier or find them supplies or worst of all, make them a cup of coffee. I didn’t even drink coffee let alone know how to make it!
I lobbied harder for an individual office than any raise. And within a year when an office opened up all the way down the hall near HR, I was given the golden ring. I promised my boss to be back at his office in a flash any time he called and I settled into the quiet of really getting some creative work done. Imagine how my productivity soared!
What do you ask has any of this to do with designing offices?
Office environments have gone the way of the extrovert. Open spaces with a constant hum of noise and activity place value on collaboration and not on the solitude required for deep creative thought. According to NIOSH: “Ambient noise also affects people’s health by increasing general stress levels and aggravating stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers and migraine headaches.”
Nearly one half of your employees are introverts. And if you are not giving them spaces to think and create you are losing out on some of your best talent. Where are they going? Either they are staying and just not giving you their best work because they are drowned out by the louder voices. Or they are leaving in droves to run their own businesses from the quiet of their home offices.
What can you do?
1. Provide Activity Based Workspaces. You can provide workspaces that are separated, such as designated silent workrooms, conference rooms for chat, pods that are for small group discussions and even individual offices. If possible, allow your introverts to work from home a few days a week.
2. Consider Acoustics. Introverts work best in quiet. Use noise absorbing materials especially in an open floor plan. Consider the materials on your floor, walls, cubicle walls and even the ceiling.
Providing a white noise fan or noise canceling headphones is another option. Not only do headphones keep out the noise but also they send the message ‘I am not to be interrupted now’. One of my current clients here in the Fairfield County area has an employee who is far more productive with her headphones on. My client struggled with allowing her to wear them but has accepted that some individuals function better without the distractions.
3. Create Signage. Have your cubicle dwellers put up signs with office hours or a do not disturb sign. A sign can go a long way to keeping people out when the pressure is on. Having a sense of humor about this doesn’t hurt either.
With a few tweaks to your office, you can make your environment a more inviting place to your introvert employees. Their productivity and creativity will soar and that translates directly to your bottom line.
If you are still struggling with how to make great changes that improve life for your employees and clients, please feel free to give me a call. After all I am passionate about bringing my client’s brand to bear through the design of their space. Not only do we improve employees’ productivity and the functionality of your space but we ensure that your clients experience your company’s brand through your office environment. To set up your complimentary consultation call for your office renovation, please contact us at email@example.com.
Love to hear from you in the comments: what design changes have you made to improve the productivity of the introverts in your office?