What do you think: are private offices gone? And if so, will they make a comeback?

Despite what it might look and seem like on office design websites like mine, officesnapshots.com, private offices aren't actually gone at all. An increasing number of offices still feature private offices.

Don't believe me? Here's a nice archive of them.

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In fact, I am pretty confident that many offices boasting open plan workspaces actually do have some limited private offices. The reason is that while many employees can get by without a physical door that closes, others, like Human Resources staff, probably shouldn't:

"The best practice would be for most HR people such as the benefits coordinator, etc. to have private offices. The problem comes about because employees may walk up to the HR person in a cubicle and just start talking, without giving her any indication that the information is private. For example, the employee may start asking questions about the group insurance coverage for abortion or cancer. Allowing anyone to overhear such a conversation is a violation of HIPAA."

Privacy is Making a Comeback

Even though I started off the article being somewhat hyperbolic, the fact is that privacy and focus in office spaces is making a comeback. Not only has Steelcase just unveiled extensive research on the subject, they've collaborated with New York Times Best Selling Author, Susan Cain, to create a series of Quiet Spaces for the office. The photo below offers two examples, both with responsive glass that turns opaque during use. 

Another interesting paper I've looked at recently was completed by design firm, Gensler.

They note:

"Workplace strategies that sacrifice individual focus in pursuit of collaboration will result in decreased effectiveness for both.

It’s not difficult to guess why this is the case. When people’s most important reported work activity is the one least supported by the workplace, the result is frustration, with a domino effect on the other work modes. A frustrated person is highly unlikely to spin his chair around and happily collaborate or socialize; a frustrated mind is unlikely to learn; a frustrated employee is unlikely to be engaged or productive.

These findings are not a repudiation of collaboration, but rather an embrace of focus. When it can be achieved, good things happen."

Beyond the need for focus, there is a new demand for private spaces to make phone calls in offices. Just look at the sweet phone booths by Framery.

Private Offices May Look Different in the Future

If you don't have the answer to the title question, "Will private offices make a comeback?", the answer is yes.

Sort of.

One of the things I believe will occur is a return to privacy and private workspaces, but by installing spaces that look and feel differently than those of the past. 

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Instead of employees thinking about private spaces being hierarchical (and having a negative opinion about it), those same spaces may instead be recognized as a felt need for sporadic use throughout the day. Perhaps two people will share the same same private office space at different times. Or perhaps the trend of offering private spaces for reservation will continue to grow.

However you slice it, I believe private offices will be back sooner rather than later.

Would you work better in a private office?

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