Privacy crisis: the future office is not all about collaboration

Hybrid office planners and business leaders must recognise the desire for privacy and individual spaces when designing the post-pandemic workplace, according to new research from Steelcase

Since the start of the pandemic, workplace designers have theorised on what a post-pandemic office may look like. There was a general agreement that the office would no longer be the place for individual, disconnected work. Instead, the hybrid world would mean the office would become a space for collaboration.

In this vision for the post-pandemic workplace, offices are designed to encourage serendipitous encounters, and promote collaborative working through shared – open plan – spaces. However, new research from Steelcase has uncovered ‘what employees really want’.

According to the Steelcase survey of almost 5,000 global office workers across 11 countries, when asked what’s become more important in the office now (compared to pre-pandemic), four of the top five were related to privacy and places to do individual work:

  • 64 per cent – Spaces for hybrid collaboration
  • 62 per cent – Single-person enclaves for hybrid meetings
  • 61 per cent – Privacy
  • 58 per cent – Workstations with full or partial enclosure
  • 57 per cent – Reservable workspaces

Although almost two thirds of respondents have expressed a desire for hybrid collaboration spaces, office workers want an workplace that accommodates both collaborative and individual work where they feel a greater sense of belonging and control over their work experience.

Demand for privacy

Pre-pandemic, workers often complained that the open plan office was ‘noisy and distracting’ and many chose to go home early to work as it was impossible to find a place to concentrate in the office. Now in 2022, where companies seem set on ridding their offices of private personal spaces these problems have only worsened. Unable to find the privacy workers seek in their workplaces, 45 per cent of survey respondents still prefer to work from home.

‘Employees are willing to trade remote workdays for personal space in the office…’

The pandemic highlighted to many the value of having a place to call their own – 70 per cent of people globally have either an office or a dedicated zone within their home where they have more control over their environment. Most people want their own, dedicated desk so much they are willing to trade remote workdays to get it.

When asked which they would prefer, 55 per cent would work from home two or less days per week if they had an assigned desk in the office. This demand for a dedicated space highlights the desire to have a place to call home in the office – a place where they belong and have the privacy they need to do their work.

Although, hybrid collaboration spaces in the office ranked first on the list of what people felt was most important in a post-pandemic office, it is important for space planners and business leaders to recognise that demand for privacy and individual spaces made up the rest of the list.

Spaces where people can effectively work alone, without distractions, are critically important for people to feel their office is a great place to work. Without these spaces there is a risk of creating a sense of ‘homelessness’ in the office which could encourage employees not to come to the office at all.

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